Parents@Play Gift Guide # 4: Advent Calendars, Star Wars, and More

What do Advent Calendars, Star Wars, and TusmTsum have in common? Not much—except that they make great gifts this holiday season.

Playmobil Advent Calendar (#6624) and Playmobil NHL Advent Calendar (#9017)

playmobil-nhlplaymobil-adventWe’re already a week into Advent—have you bought an Advent Calendar for your child yet? If not, Playmobil has two adorable options. For children who love animals, the adorable farm-themed set #6624 is perfect (Playmobil refers to their sets by number and it’s sometimes easier to find them that way). Every day, as you count down to Christmas, your child can punch out a numbered door and find a fun surprise, such as a kitty, cow, goat, or a tractor. Whether you’re country born, or just have a country soul, #6624 is sure to please. About $25 at Toys R Us and Amazon. For sporty kids, the NHL Hockey set #9017 will score big. Once all the pieces are revealed, your hockey fan will have it all: hockey figures, child figures, flags, goal, Stanley Cup, puck bag, reindeer, and a Santa referee (who better to break up disagreements?) Around $27 at major retailers. www.playmobil.us


 

Hockey Arena (Playmobil)

hockey-arenaFor even more hockey fun, this set is full of interactive fun and has a movable goalie. Just as in real games, kids use the players’ sticks to block or to hit the puck into the goal. Use the joystick to slide the goalie back and forth to protect the goal. You can customize your team and rink with any NHL team stickers (included). About $59.99 at retailers everywhere. www.playmobil.us

 

Star Wars Carbon Freezing Chamber Set (LEGO)

star-wars-carbon-freezingThis cool LEGO set is not only one of our favorites, but it also made the KMart Fab15 Toy List, and it’s sure to be a hit for Star Wars fans of all ages. Go on a quest to rescue Han Solo from Boba Fett. Besides the Carbon Freezing center itself (which includes a moving elevator, detailed control center, and all freezing functions), this set comes with minifigs of Boba Fett, Han Solo, and an Ugnaught native. Warning: It freezes only LEGOs, so your children are safe. $25 at Kmart; prices vary elsewhere. www.lego.com

 

Star Wars Big Figs (Jakks Pacific)

star-wars-big-figsWhat’s better than Star Wars figures? Really, really big Star Wars figures. And these figs from Jakks Pacific of all your Star Wars faves are definitely that. The “Big Figs” are 18”-19″, the “Massive” figs, roughly 31″, and the “Colossals” are 48″ (which might be bigger than your child). Choose from Storm Troopers to the man in black himself, Darth Vader, and everyone in between. They have articulated joints, so they’re not just statue-like and hanging out. If they aren’t already there, these big figs will definitely be showing up on any Star Wars fan’s holiday wish list. Price range from $20 to $99, depending on the character and the size. www.jakks.com

 

Disney TsumTsum Series One

tsumtsum-disney-series-1-256x300From the very big, to the very small… Have you heard of TsumTsum? This Japanese craze has just hit American shores, and kids are flipping out for these adorable animals. TsumTsum in English is “stack stack,” which is a fitting name, since that’s exactly what you do with them. The Disney Tsum Tsum Series One is the perfect starter pack, and comes with three each of the small, medium (one of which is a “mystery character”), and large Disney-themed TsumTsum. There’s also a collector’s guide. $16.99 at www.kmart.com or in stores; prices vary at other retailers.

Parents@Play Gift Guide #3: Disney Princesses and Where They Might Live

Princesses are everywhere—you might even have one living in your house. Here are some of our big- and small-screen favorites that are sure to entertain throughout the winter and beyond.

Disney Princess Belle Musical Tea Party Cart: (Jakks Pacific)

jakks belle tea partyBeauty and the Beast is arguably one of Disney’s best films. Anyone who’s seen it—no matter how long ago—probably has vivid memories of at least one or two scenes or characters. And what could be more memorable than the night Belle has dinner with Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Chip, and the other enchanted objects? Now your little one can join in the fun by having her very own tea party—and if you’re lucky, you’ll get invited. The cart is delightfully ornate and comes with a Mrs. Potts teapot, two cups (including Chip, of course), two spoons, and more. And with the push of a button, it plays “Be Our Guest.” It’s for ages 3+, although you’ll need to be there to assemble the cart and install the batteries. Available at most retailers for around $59. http://www.jakks.com


 

Disney Princess Elena of Avalor Magical Scepter of Light and Storytime Guitar (Jakks Pacific)

jakks disney elena of avalorOver the years, Disney’s princesses have become more and bold, assertive (in a good way), capable, and adventurous. As the crown princess of Avalor, 16-year-old Elena (who is Disney’s first Latina princess) has all of those traits, along with a strong sense of protectiveness for her family and her realm. In addition to her wit and intelligence, Elena has a Magical Scepter of Light ($25), which has a number of mysterious powers. And now your little princess (or prince) can have one just like Elena’s, complete with magical (okay, battery-operated) lights and sounds. The Storytime Guitar ($35) plays three songs from the TV series, but kids can use it to create their own songs. Ages 3+. http://www.jakks.com


 

Disney Princess Singing Moana and Friends (Jakks Pacific)

jakks disney moanaLike Elena, Moana is a bold, adventurous 16-year-old who’s committed to saving her family and her people. So she breaks a few rules and sets off on an epic adventure with her loyal friends, Pua the pig and Heihei the rooster. Your little one can get onboard and sail along with the intrepid trio, singing “How Far I’ll Go” all the way. Moana and the animals are for ages 3+ and retail for under $30, batteries included. http://www.jakks.com


 

Disney Frozen Northern Lights Elsa (Jakks Pacific)

jakks disney frozen elsa Speaking of epic adventures, the Northern Lights are barely visible in the kingdom of Arendelle and in the new LEGO animated short, “Frozen Northern Lights,” Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, Sven have to restore them. It won’t be easy. Fortunately, they’ll get some help from a magical snowflake and your child. Elsa’s dress and the snowflake interact with each other, creating beautiful colors, lights, and sounds when you hold your hand over the snowflake. It’s for ages 3+. Comes with Elsa, the snowflake, and Elsa’s shoes—but no batteries—for around $30. http://www.jakks.com


 

The Fantastic Castle (Janod)

janod fantastic castleThe princesses and heroines we talked about here have their own castles, but some of the characters in your child’s playroom might not be so lucky. Enter Janod’s Fantastic Castle, which truly is fantastic. It combines elements of puzzles, building, and imaginative play to encourage your child to immerse himself or herself in a world of knights and dragons. Comes with eight wooden knights, two horses, two dragons, a catapult, trees, tents, puzzle pieces (for the castle’s moat), and a sturdy case to pack it all up in. It’s for ages 4+ and retails for around $55. http://www.alexbrands.com/pa_brand/janod/

Parents@Play Gift Guide #2: Charms, Animals, Robots, and More

If you’re like us, and you like to get a head start on the holiday shopping, you’ll love these cute, fun toys. Your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and all the other little people on your list will have a ball with them long after the Holidays are a memory.

 

Charm U

charm uDo you know a little girl who loves crafts? How about jewelry? Well, with Charm U, she’ll be able to make her own toys that double as jewelry. Charms are very trendy right now, and there are more than 70 to choose from, including foods, pets, princess, travel, and sports. Charm U’s come in all sorts of configurations. The Charm U Bracelet and Eight Charms starter includes exactly that the name promises—plus a “surprise charm” in a fun mini backpack, stickers, and more. You can also buy four-charm packs and blind bags that contain two collectible charms. Still need more? Try the Charm U Display & Playsets. Prices vary. www.charmucharms.com

Big Robots

big-robotsAny robot fans on your list? Be prepared, because Big Robots are must-haves for a lot of kids. These 8-inch fighting robots are a breeze to set up and the handheld controllers are very responsive and easy to operate. You hold the controllers (think motion controlled nunchucks) and when you move your hands, the robots mimic you. Big Robots work best on flat, smooth surfaces (floors are ideal since you don’t your robots falling off a table). One especially cool feature is the “damage tracking” LEDs that display the devastation you and your opponent inflict on each other. Big Robots retail for about $59.99 each, or $119.99 for a two pack—and you’re going to want the two-pack since they’re a lot more fun to do with someone else.

 

FlipaZoo

flipa zooWhen you’re ready to go to bed or snuggle up by the fire, grab your FlipaZoo. These clever, super-soft plushes not only two animals in one toy, but also two items in one—toy and pillow. There are 12 transforming characters available, just flip them from one to another. They’re safe for all ages and retail for $19. Buy one and get a free “Little Flipzee” mini FlipaZoo as a bonus. www.flipazoo.com/ .

 

Kate & Mim-Mim

mim-mimDo you know Kate & Mim-Mim? If your kids are fans of this fairly new TV show, they’ll love this new line of toys. One of the most fun is the Kate & Mim-Mim Magic Twirl. In case you didn’t know, Mim-Mim is a large and oh-so-soft purple bunny from Mimiloo. He’s also chatty, repeating 10 phrases from the show. (You can turn off the sound at night or any other time you need a break.) To complete your set, try the Kate & Mim-Mim Adventures with Kate Doll. Standing 8.5 inches tall, Kate comes dressed in in her adventure outfit and is ready for holiday fun with Mim-Mim. Mim-Mim is $19.99, Kate is $12.99. www.kateandmimmim.com

 

Powerpuff Girls Deluxe 2 in 1 Flip to Action Playset

powerpuff girls playsetIf you have any little helpers on your hands, this playset will encourage them to hone those instincts. The first item of business is to save the world—or at least Townsville—from any evil-doers who may threaten it. This set comes with two-inch Bubbles and Professor Utonium. It’s also a good size for many standard size action figures, so “friends” can join in. With an easy flip, it transforms from The Powerpuff Girls’ bedroom to their superhero lab. Who wouldn’t love that commute? The set looks just like the rooms on the TV show, and accessories (like dressers and backpacks), flip with the rooms and stay attached, so there are no pieces to lose! It’s safe for kids 5+ and retails for under $25.

Parents@Play 2016 Gift Guide #1: Make It Yourself

Where has the year gone? It seems like we just finished ushering in 2016. But here were are, already getting ready for the winter Holidays. To help you through the often-daunting task of gift buying (and giving), here’s our first Gift Guide.

Dinosaur Skull Dig (Discovery Kids)

discovery kids dinosaur digIf you have a budding archaeologist around the house, he, she, or you will have great time excavating this scale model of a T-Rex skull. The skull itself is encased in plaster, and you’ll use the included tools (a wooden mallet, paint brush, and chisel) to gently liberate it. Besides learning about how archaeologists work (including how they clean up), you’ll also learn plenty about dinosaurs from the large poster. The kit also comes with a display stand. It’s for ages 12 and up and is available for $19.99 exclusively at Michael’s. Discovery Kids also makes two other science-based kits (Rock & Gem Dig Kit and Crystal Growing Kit). https://www.michaels.com

 

Fright Factory (Tech 4 Kids)

tech 4 kids fright factoryHalloween is over, but creating gross, yucky, frightening creatures is a year-round activity. Fright Factory reminds us of a childhood favorite—kind of like an Easy Bake Oven—where you squirted goo into molds and baked the molds to produce bugs, eyeballs, and more. We still have burn scars (which we still believe build character). In this case, there’s no heat required, as the EwwGoo cures quickly and the “baking” process is light-activated. But the results—insects, reptiles, skeletons, rats, and more—are just as cool. It’s for ages 8 and up and retails for under $30. EwwGoo refill packs cost around $12. http://tech4kids.com

 

Gemmies Design Studio (Tech 4 Kids)

alex gemmiesThis colorful kit comes with everything you need to make more crystal creations that you can imagine: 369 crystals, 134 rings, five templates, special tools, gem containers, a box for displaying your creations, instructions, and a lot more. And there are dozens of tutorials on the website that take young artists step by step through how to build specific models (animals, flowers, foods, and more). The Design Studio retails for under $23. You can also get Single Packs (for building one item) and Theme Packs. For ages 6 and up, with some adult supervision. http://makegemmies.com

 

Knot-a Lion (Alex Brands)

alex knot-a-lionWith all the binge watching people do these days, there’s a lot of cover-hogging going on. But with this craft kit, those days are gone. It comes with everything your child (and you, if you want to help) needs to create an attractive, snuggly, lion pillow with a blanket attached. The finished product looks like a mini version one of those old fashioned lion-skin rugs, but a lot more colorful and without the ethical dilemmas. No actual sewing is required—all the super-soft fleece pieces are pre-cut and pre punched, so all you need to do is attach them using the special embroidery thread (which they call “floss”). It’s for ages 8+ and retails for around $30. http://www.alexbrands.com

 

Lil Lockitz Memory Studio (Alex Brands)

alex lil lockitzEvery child has a story, right? So why not let her tell it. For hundreds of years, adults have used lockets to share precious memories. Many of them have become treasured family heirlooms and passed from generation to generation—not the kind of thing you want to give to a young child. But with Lil Lockitz, your youngster can create her own keepsake locket that’s as unique as she is. This kit comes with enough supplies (locket tops and backs, gems, charms, tweezers, stencils, and more) to create 10 completely individualized lockets. It’s for ages 5 and up, retails for under $23. Also comes in a variety of other specialty sets. www.Lillockitz.com

Home Safety for the Holidays

We’re all about having fun with your family. But how could you possibly enjoy yourself if you aren’t completely confident that your loved ones are safe—especially in your own home? These new devices can help put your mind at ease so you can get back to the good stuff.

 

WiFi Garage Door Opener (Chamberlain)

chamberlain garage door opener wifiIf you have a home security system, you’re probably set up to monitor doors, windows, and motion in various parts of your property. But what about your garage, which, for a lot of us, is the main way into or out of the house? Overlooked that one, didn’t you. Considering that most burglaries happen during the day, when no one’s home, a crook could break in through your garage and you’d be none the wiser ‘til you got home. With Chamberlain’s WiFi garage door opener, you’ll get an immediate alert on your smartphone anytime your garage door opens. And using the free MyQ app, you can open (and close) the door remotely, which is great for those time when the kids “forget” their key for the 274th time or when you want to let someone in but don’t want him or her to have a key. These openers are designed to work with other smarthome technologies, such as Nest, and they connect directly to your home Wi-Fi network (although you’ll need a strong signal in the garage). Prices vary. Available at the Home Depot or http://www.chamberlain.com

 

FireAvert (FireAvert)

fireavertDid you know that cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires in the United States, and that 58 percent of those fires are caused by kitchen stoves? To put that in perspective, every year, U.S. fire departments respond to average of more than 162,000 home structure fires that involve cooking equipment, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Chances are, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the kitchen over the next month or so and we’re sure you’d like to do everything you can to reduce your risk of a kitchen fire. Created by a real firefighter, FireAlert is an elegantly simple solution. Plug it into the back of your stove, and if it senses the sound of a smoke alarm (where there’s smoke there’s fire, right?), it automatically cuts power to your stove and oven. That’s it. Retails for $149.99 at http://www.fireavert.com

 

MAX One (MAX Smart Home)

max one If you’ve ever had your smoke detector go off, you may have a tough time imagining being able to sleep through that annoying sound, which is exactly why it’s so annoying in the first place. But plenty of us actually do—especially children (who, as we all know, can sleep through pretty much anything, including alarms and repeated wake-ups by mom or dad), any one of the 70 million Americans who have high-frequency hearing loss, and anyone who’s been drinking. MAX One has a solution: It “listens” for the shrill, high-frequency tone emitted by smoke- and carbon monoxide alarms and produces a variety of low tones instead. Research shows that low tones are much more effective (93% effective, to be exact) in waking people up. Plus, sleepers will adjust to a single tone and stay in bed, whereas a varied tone will have the desired effect. MAX One combines intruder detection, fire/CO alarm, and nightlight into a single, sleek unit. All you do is plug it in to a standard outlet, and there’s a USB port so you can still charge your device without having to unplug MAX. Because it holds a charge, you can unplug your MAX from the wall and use it as a flashlight. Retails for around $39.95 at Home Depot or www.maxsmarthome.com

High-Tech, Low-Tech, and No-Tech Halloween Fun

There are all sorts of ways for kids to be creative: high-tech, low-tech, or no-tech. Here are a few of our current favorites that fit into at least one of those categories.

skyanders imaginatorsSkylanders Imaginators

This brand new addition to the Skylanders universe is the best one yet. Once again, the evil Kaos is causing problems in Skyland, and Eon needs your help to defeat him. With Imaginators, players can create their own Skylanders, customizing their appearance, sounds, and even appendages. With the help of “senseis” who specialize in one of ten different techniques, you can also train your Skylander to defeat Kaos and his minions. You create your Skylander on the fly within the game through a series of easy-to-navigate menus. Each level is also littered with items that can be used to build and rebuild your character. The gameplay is your typical hack and slash, where exploration is encouraged and villains are colorful and unique. Each level has a theme and an end boss who must be defeated to progress. Imaginators is compatible with all pervious Skylanders. The starter set includes a portal, the game itself, and at least two senseis and an Imaginator crystal to make (and save) your own Skylander. It retails for $74.99 and is available nationwide.

 

lego dementionsLEGO Dimensions (LEGO)

The LEGO brick-themed multiverse game is constantly expanding, and now includes the worlds of the children’s favorite “Adventure Time,” the generational favorite “Dr. Who,” and the TV classic “The Simpsons,” just to name a few. Each pack is jammed full of fun with levels, characters, and of course the LEGOs themselves, which come with digital instructions on how to build some characters. Once put together, the characters fit right in with all the other LEGOs you have at home. Adventure Time has tons of characters and interactions with authentic voices. When combining the level pack with the character pack, you can play as the duo Finn and Jake, who both cause mischief and save princesses with the help of BMO and Lumpy Space Princess. At first, we didn’t much care for Lumpy Space Princess, but her animations and interactions are so spot on and funny, that she became one of our favorites. The Simpsons brings your characters into Springfield to solve various quests and requests by locals. There are playable levels as well as free play modes, where you can just go exploring to find all of the game’s nooks and crannies. Prices vary by pack and size. www.lego.com/en-us/dimensions

 

playmobil halloweenPlaymobil Haunted House Playset (Playmobil)

You know how much we love Playmobil, and they just released one of our favorite sets ever, which besides being adorable, is perfect for this time of year. It comes with two Halloween themed figures (Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster), mice, a skull, a raven, vials to make spooky concoctions in your lab, and more. The lab also closes, making clean up, storage, and portability a breeze. It’s only $18 at Walmart; prices vary at other stores. http://www.playmobil.us/

 

bluebees zebraBluebee Pals (Bluebee)

What a great way to combine relaxation and interesting play. Kids can prop up a laptop, tablet, or smart phone on their Blubee’s lap or just plug in the device and watch what Bluebee can do. There are five options: Riley the Zebra, Sammy the Bear, Hudson the Puppy, Lily the Lamb, and Leo the Lion. These soft and sweet learning tools connect to any Apple or Android device and move their mouth when they talk, sing, or read to your child (using any app that has sound). Really. We even tried it with a Japanese heavy metal band; the results were hilarious. Bluebee has a built in speaker and microphone and can also be used as a telephone. Bluebees retail for $64.99 and come with a rechargeable battery and micro-USB cable. www.BluebeePals.com

Not Much, Just Hanging Out

You don’t have to be a “Game of Thrones” fan to know that winter is coming. And when it does, you’re still going to want to have fun. Here are some great options.

 

Double Ditto (Inspiration Play)

double dittoThis is a light-hearted game for as many people as you can squeeze together in one room. The object is simple: one player picks a card and reads it out loud. Topics include things like, “commands you teach your dog,” “milestones for teenagers,” “parts of the human body,” “things you put on your head,” and 396 more. The rest of the players have 15 seconds to write down two answers. When time’s up, players take turns reading their answers. If one of your words matches with another player’s, you both score a “ditto.” If both match, “double ditto.” Comes with 400 cards and a 15-second timer. For 4-10 players (or more), ages 10+. Under $20. http://www.inspirationplay.com/

 

Escape the Room: Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat (ThinkFun)

escape the room retreatIf you liked ThinkFun’s Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor, you’ll love this next addition to the Escape the Room phenomenon—and don’t worry, more are in the works. Since the basic gameplay, mechanics, and idea (get out of the room before time runs out) of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat are the same as in Stargazer’s Manor, let’s talk about a few of the differences. First, the story is a little more complex and sinister, and the puzzles are a little more challenging to solve. Second, you may want to play this with a smaller group (for or fewer) of slightly older players, since a few of the puzzles are designed to be done by one person at a time, which means that everyone else has to wait. Whether you’re an Escape novice or a family of Houdinis, this game is a delight to play, and will give you the excitement of freeing yourself from a locked room, without the claustrophobia of actually being trapped inside. For 3-8 players, ages 12+. Under $22. http://www.thinkfun.com/

 

Max Traxx Tracer Racers Remote Control Police Chase (Skullduggery)

max traxx police chaseAlthough you and your racing-fan kids will enjoy this Max Traxx set during the day, it really comes to life (or, more accurately, “to light”) at night. This kit includes 36 feet of glow-in-the-dark track, track risers (so you can adjust the height), lane changers, a jump, and two cars: a Mustang and a Camaro. Once you’ve got the track set up, installed batteries in the controllers, and charged the cars, turn off the lights and get ready to be amazed. The cars themselves zip around the track at a scale speed of up to 500 MPH! But the coolest thing is the Light Trace Technology. As the cars fly by, they leave light streaks behind them. Wow! Ages 6+ About $119. http://www.skullduggery.com/

 

Trick Shot Sports (Tucker)

trick shot sports dudesThere’s not much to say about the Trick Shot Sports dudes except that they’re fun to play with. There are five sports—baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer—and they all operate essentially the same way: Hold the figure, pull back a spring-loaded arm (or foot, hockey stick, or baseball bat), release it, and smack a sports-themed ping-pong ball. You can set up elaborate ricochet trick shots or compete against other players. There are no instructions, so you can make up your own rules or just let anarchy reign. Although we had a great time with Trick Shot, there are two things we’d like to see: some dudettes and some left-handed figures. Ages 5+. http://trickshotsports.com/

Arts: The A in Steam

It would be hard to find anyone these days who doesn’t know about STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—which are the skills our children need to learn if they’re going to become the leaders of tomorrow. But many people (including everyone here at Parents@Play) believe that the arts, in all its many variations, are also critical skills. Hence STEAM, which adds an A to the mix. If you’ve been searching for some great art-related activities to do with your family, look no further—we’ve got you covered.

Fab Foil Nail Roller (Alex)

fab foil nail rollerWho would have thought that there’d be so many ways to decorate nails? With this kit, attach a double sided sticker to the nail, roll some foil onto the exposed side of the sticker, and you’re ready to hit the town with nails a-shimmering. No nail polish needed, which his good news for people who have trouble with the smell (although you can add topcoat to protect your manicure). Comes with 30 foil strips, a storage pouch, and instructions. For ages 8+. Under $22. http://www.alexbrands.com/

 

IDO3D Vertical (Redwood Ventures, Ltd.)

I do 3d verticalThis is one of the coolest things ever. Special photopolymer ink and the blue LED light that cures the ink on the spot allow you to “draw” 3D creations in real time, kind of like a 3D printer. Kits may include multiple pens, ink, a curing light, a plastic tracing sheet, and some special accessories to help your human printer mold especially complex objects. Of course, you can purchase extras of whatever you run out of. There’s also a nice video of tips and tricks, project suggestions, and several free, 3D art courses on the website. For ages 8+. Prices vary, depending on how many pens and other supplies you get. http://www.ido3dart.com/

 

Blaze Color Scroller (Alex Brands)

color scrollerThis is an art studio in a box. The centerpiece is a paper roll of 40 images of Blaze and the Monster Machines. That means no more single sheets of paper floating all over your car or living room. Finish one picture, just scroll ahead to the next. Or, if your kid wakes up in the middle of the night with a brilliant “I-should-have-done-something-else” idea, he or she can scroll backwards. Comes with stickers and eight crayons, which store neatly in the pull-out drawer. For ages 3+. Under $20. http://www.alexbrands.com/

 

Shrinky Dinks (Alex Brands)

shrinky dinksShrinky Dinks have been around since the early 1970s, and they owe a great deal of their success to being easy and fun and giving kids and adults a great outlet for expressing their creativity. Today’s Shrinky Dinks have succeed in a way that many other brands have not: They’ve stayed true to their origins but have also adapted to children’s rapidly changing preferences. Shrinky Dinks Pets Playset brings 21 of your favorite characters from the hit movie, “The Secret Life of Pets.” Besides the animals themselves, this set incudes enough paperboard pieces to construct your own playhouse to house them. Shrinky Dinks 3D Butterfly Lights adds in an element of light (though batteries aren’t included) to enhance the dozen or so butterflies. It and Shrinky Dinks 3D Flower Jewelry both include special molds that will help make ordinary, flat Shrinky Dinks into dazzling 3D ones. For ages 8+. Prices vary. Available at your favorite retailer. http://www.alexbrands.com/

Fall Classic Video Games

Looking for some new video games to play with the family as the weather cools down? Or maybe something portable to get you through those inevitable holiday travel delays? Here are some of our current favorites.

Paper Mario Color Splash (Nintendo)

paper mario color splashThis newest entry in the beloved Paper Mario series takes Mario to the formerly colorful Prism Island, where someone is draining the land of all its paint and color. As the hero we all know and love, Paper Mario comes along to save the day with his paint hammer, which splashes color on colorless portions of land, flowers, characters, houses, and even water. This game plays like other games in the series, where combat is turn based, but it also includes cards that describe what moves can be used next. This game is a blast to play for RPG fans or Mario fans in general. And if you’re new to Paper Mario, this is a perfect place to start, giving you an interactive role-playing experience that will help you paint-smash some dull areas of your own life. Only on the Nintendo Wii U. Retails for $59.99. http://www.nintendo.com

Metroid Federation Force (Nintendo)

metroid federation forceMetroid is a longtime Nintendo fan favorite. But Nintendo created quite a bit of controversy when they developed Federation Force instead of continuing the Samus saga in the Metroid Prime universe. That said, Federation Force is an interesting spin on a familiar game setting and characters. This title picks up after the events in Metroid Prime 3 Corruption and follows the Federation Force in their pursuit to clean up the galaxy by battling Metroids, Space Pirates, and various other alien creatures, who are causing problems across three familiar planets. This game differs from other Metroid Prime installments in its emphasis on teamwork and group-based shooting instead of exploration. Nintendo also removed the touchscreen-based elements of Metroid Prime Hunters and the scanning ability of Metroid Prime. Players can adopt several specialties, depending on which weapons (including a healer weapon and heavy fire missiles) they choose to load out before each mission. Federation Force also includes an arena-style combat soccer mode called Blast Ball. You can get both in retail stores or the eShop for $39.99. http://www.nintendo.com

Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Yo-Kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls (Nintendo)

yo-kai watchThe main story revolves around our protagonist Nate, as he solves mysteries involving the spirit world by using his Yo-Kai watch. These two new games delve deeper into the origins of the Yo-Kai watch and engage players in the watch’s humble beginnings. The story in Yo-Kai Watch 2 deals with a war of epic proportions between Yo-Kai, who still have time to help various townspeople and take mini quests along the way. It also includes bug catching. If you’re looking for a fun, easy-to-pick-up-and-play RPG with monster collecting, Yo-Kai Watch 2 is perfect. And if you’re a general RPG fan and looking for something with an odd flavor or you just love the TV show, you won’t want to miss this. Both are available now for the Nintendo 3DS, and retail for $39.99 each. http://www.nintendo.com

Galaxy Style 3DS (Nintendo)

galaxy blue 3dsThere’s no shortage of consoles and gaming devices, but one of the newest (and in our opinion, prettiest) is the Galaxy Blue 3DS XL, which Nintendo released in honor of the new planet scientists just discovered. Lovers of science, astronomy, or just really cool artwork will love this space-themed, shimmery design. It’s a limited edition, so you’ll have to act quickly. With tons of family-friendly games, the Nintendo 3DS family is the best-selling video game system in the United States. They retail for around $199.99 and are available in stores or at http://www.nintendo.com/

Games for One

Our mission here at Parents@Play is to bring you toys and games that parents and kids will enjoy doing together. But all of us need some me-time now and then. So what do you do when you’re home alone and want a fun way to unwind, or when you’re in the car and your child wants to play? Well, here are four engaging, entertaining, and mind-stretching games for solo players. Oh, and none of them are electronic in any way.

 

Clue Master (ThinkFun)

clue master, thinkfun
Your dog Tippy wants to go home. But the only way there is through a secret door that can be unlocked only by arranging his treasures (three sets of bones, three tennis balls, and three dog bowls) in a unique grid pattern. It’s a little like Sudoku, except that you’re using symbols instead of numbers. There are 40 challenges, each with several clues of patterns that will have to show up somewhere in the completed puzzle (for example, a blue bowl has to be to the left of a green ball, or the red bones have to be diagonally attached to something blue and something green). From there, you’ll use your deductive reasoning skills (if this goes here, then that must go there…) to determine where the rest of the pieces go. Challenges range from beginner level to expert, so there will always be a challenge. Clue Master is especially nice for road trips since the pieces are magnetic. Plus, it has a Minecraft-y look that kids will love. For ages 8 and up. Under $23. http://www.thinkfun.com/

 

Ghost Hunters (Smart Games)

ghost hunter, smart gamesThe only way to rid your haunted mansion of those pesky ghosts is to shine a light on them. The six ghosts in question are arranged on a 4×4 grid and all you need to do to light them up is arrange the six translucent plastic flashlight pieces in the right configuration. Get ready to use your logic and spatial reasoning skills. You’ll also need a heavy dose of patience. Comes with 60 puzzles (divided into three levels of difficulty, easy to expert), each of which has exactly one solution. You’ll also get a booklet with game rules and solutions to all the puzzles (which you won’t look at unless it’s a true emergency, right?). For ages 6+. Under $15. http://www.smartgamesusa.com/

 

IQ XOXO (Smart Games)

IQ xoxoIf you’ve ever had a chance to play with any of the other puzzles in the IQ line (Puzzler Pro, Candy, and more), you’ll love IQ XOXO. In this one, you’re using colorful, double-sided pentomino pieces (meaning that each differently shaped piece is made up of five connected elements—in this case Xs and Os) to completely fill a grid. There are a total of 120 challenges, divided into three experience levels. Each provides starting positions of a few pieces, but then you’re on your own. The game board is its own case. Come with a booklet of challenge and solutions. Ages 6+. Under $10. http://www.smartgamesusa.com/

 

Parking Puzzler (Smart Games)

parking puzzler, smart gamesAs with many of the games here, Parking Puzzler gives you a few clues and turns you lose to find the solution. In this case, you’re arranging cars in a parking lot—and you’d better not even think of blocking the exits. The cars are attached to pieces that will fit together to complete a 4×4 grid. Includes 60 easy-to-expert challenges (each with only one possible solution) and a booklet with solutions.  For ages 6+. Under $15. http://www.smartgamesusa.com/