East of Easter

How is it that giving candy and chocolate to kids has become such a major part of so many holiday celebrations? Every one of those holidays has its own, special, traditional sugary treat. In the case of Easter, of course, it’s eggs and bunnies. But these days we’re hearing from more and more parents of very young children who are looking for two things: reduced-sugar treats for the kiddies, and toys that aren’t too big for their little ones to pick up and play with. Here are some of our spring Easter-basket-stuffing faves that satisfy both of those requirements.

bunnies tomy cloud bBubbly Bunny and Glow Cuddles Bunny (Cloud b)
These two adorable bunnies are perfect for baby’s first (and maybe even second) Easter morning. Bubbly Bunny plays four soothing sounds, including giggles, wind, waves, and a cute lullaby. The selection and volume are set by mom and dad. There’s also a variable sleep timer (23 or 45 minutes). Comes with a Velcro strap to secure Bubbly to baby’s crib.

Cuddles Bunny adds sight and touch to the infant bedtime experience. The slightest hug makes Cuddles glow and activates a vibrating heartbeat (easily be disabled by a parent), which are designed to help your baby learn to calm herself.  The light is dim enough to not interfere with sleep, and shuts itself off after 23 minutes. Both bunnies come with batteries and retail for $30 (Bubbly) and $33 (Cuddles) at http://cloudb.com.

Lil’ Chirpers Sorting Eggs (TOMY)
These cute, festive, brightly colored eggs are perfect for a child who is becoming more mobile. Six eggs come in a handy carrying/storage case that includes two different matching games. “Break” open an egg to discover a chick of the same color. Press the chick’s head to make him peep. Great for building manual dexterity and leaning colors, shapes, sorting, and patterns. $12 at http://tomy.com

Lamaze Bella Bunny and Giggle Bunny Ball (TOMY)
Bella Bunny lets your baby use almost every one of his senses: The colors are vivid and engaging (vision), there are a variety of fabrics and textures (touch), and the ears crinkle (hearing). Plus, Bella is made of completely non-toxic materials, so your baby can gum and gnaw away to his heart’s content. Lamaze color codes all their products to make it easy to find the perfect toy for your child’s age and developmental range.

Giggle Bunny Ball is another a great toy for babies and has been tested safe for birth on up. Like Bella, Giggle is colorful, crinkly, and multi-textured. But what sets her apart is that she giggles when shaken (and yes, there’s an on/off switch). One of her ears is a loop, which makes it easy for baby to grab on to and even easier for ma and pa to attach it to a crib, stroller, or car seat. Bella Bunny retails for $16 and Giggle Bunny is $10, both at http://tomy.com

Jelly Bean Racer (Little Tikes)
jellybean racer from little tikesIf you’ve got a budding Kyle Busch or Danica Patrick on your hands, he or she will love these racers which, as you might guess from the name, really do look like giant jelly beans on wheels. They come in four colors: pink, red, green, and orange, and sport two antennae-like “handles” to keep kids secure on top. By using their feel to pedal or push off the ground and to steer, kids can cruise around the house or any relatively smooth outdoors surface. Best for kids 12-24 months). Retails for $20 at http://www.littletikes.com

The Basket Case

easter basket gund calico critters hog wild toysWhat’s an Easter basket without a few stuffed animals? Most young kids love something soft to snuggle up with, and Easter is a great excuse to give them cuddly toys. But, honestly, do you really need an excuse?

Bunnies and More (Gund)
Gund is definitely on our list of favorite stuffed-animal brands, and they’ve got such a huge variety that you’re pretty much guaranteed to find the perfect addition to your little one’s menagerie. At this time of year, of course there’s no shortage of traditional rabbits, but they also have plenty of other soft and snugglies. Let’s start with bunnies. “Floppy” is a large, white rabbit that, as you might guess from the name, is actually floppy. But he’s also wonderfully plush and makes a great cuddle companion. Floppy comes in two sizes, for $15 or $25. “Ditter Bunny” is velvety smooth to the touch, and the perfect size for small hands. He is available for $12, and his sweet face will bring smiles to yours on Easter morning. A fun new addition to the Gund family, “Li’l Sprout Bunny,” is available in four fun and festive spring colors: white, yellow, green, and pink. He’s got a great, cartoon-ish face, complete with rosy cheeks. He’s also a little flatter than most stuffed toys, which makes it all the more interesting. Li’l Sprouts retail for $12 each, and can be a nice addition to your Easter décor. But you should have a Plan B, since your kids or grandkids are going to make off with them as soon as your back is turned. Gund has tons of other Spring toys, including even more rabbits, chicks, ducks, and lambs. You can find them all at gund.com or your local specialty stores.

Bunny Popper (Hog Wild Toys)
Bunny Popper isn’t quite as cuddly as some other Easter toys, but he’ll definitely add a little pop to your holiday. Put one of the six included soft foam balls in Popper’s mouth, squeeze, and it can fly as far as 20 feet. The harder the squeeze, the further the balls go, so you need to be the judge of whether you want to risk your fine crystal or send Popper and the kids outside. Popper is available for $10 on http://www.hogwildtoys.com/, or at many other retailers, including Amazon.com and Fatbrain Toys.

Character Eggs (Playmobil)
What’s Easter without eggs? Playmobil’s alternative to those high-calorie chocolate ones pack a lot of fun into a small package. Each one contains an entire scene, complete with characters and props. Scenes include race car drivers, knights, fairies, unicorns, and more. After playtime, all the pieces fit neatly into the egg, which is small enough to take anywhere your child goes. If you’ve got other Playmobil play sets, the eggs will fit in quite nicely. At $8.95, they’re a great value.

Hazlenut Chipmunk Family (Calico Critters)
Speaking of play sets, for kids who love Calico Critters (and most do), the new Chipmunk Family will be a hit. Each member of the family (mother, father, sister, and brother) has a distinct personality and works with the Calico Critter World theme, where everyone has a special job, and they’re all friends with each other. These cute toys are great for teaching social skills, stimulating imagination, telling stories, and learning about what makes a community. The Chipmunks and plenty of other families (bunnies, elephants, and more) run $23 and are available at http://www.calicocritters.com/.

Aw, Blast It!

No matter how politically incorrect it is to play with things that shoot, the fact is that kids—and plenty of adults—love ‘em. So here are some of our Spring faves.

Djubi Classic (Djubi)
djubiPlaying catch must be one of the oldest games in existence, and one might think that after millions of years, we’d have exhausted every possible variation. But then along comes Djubi Classic, which is part slingshot, part baseball glove, part lacrosse stick, part racquetball racquet, part butterfly net, and all fun. The game comes with two racquets and two balls called Djubis, which are attached to a stretchy rubber loop. Just hook the loop over the special notch on the racquet, pull it back like a sling shot, and let ‘er rip towards your partner who can be as far as 100 feet away. Then all you have to do is catch the Djubi in the racquet’s deep net. While not intended for indoor use, the racquets and Djubis are waterproof, which means you can take the fun to the pool or the beach. For ages 8 and up.  $14.50. djubi.com

Djubi Dart Ball (Djubi)
djubi dart ballWhile the Classic is meant for cooperative play, Djubi Dart Ball is made for head-to-head competition. The set comes with two launchers (miniature versions of the regular racquets but without the netting) six small Djubis, a target (essentially a dart board made of netting), and a dry-erase scoreboard. Load up your Djubi and start firing. Players can compete on points, speed, or anything else. Meant for outside use, but if you have a big enough play area and you’ve removed your fine China, there’s plenty of fun to be had indoors as well. Ages 6 and up. $10.50 at your favorite retailer or djubi.com.

VMD Cannon Commando (Sky Rocket Toys)
vmd cannon commandoThe Cannon Commando is a remote-controlled (RC) blaster that shoots further and harder than anything else in its class. And just in case there was any doubt about what this toy is about, VMD stands for Vehicles of Mass Destruction. The Commando responds well to the control unit and can move in any direction while firing off its 16 foam darts. Interestingly, unlike some other RC blasters, which allow players to adjust the dart trajectory up and down from the control unit, the Commando needs to be aimed manually. That gives parents a great opportunity to have the all-important safety discussion that absolutely must be a part of any game that involves shooting. The manual adjustment also reduces the chance that anyone will get shot in the face. Requires six AA batteries and one 9-volt. For ages 8 and up. $40. http://www.skyrockettoys.com/

Tek Recon 55450 Hammer Head Battle Pack (Tek Recon)
hammer head battle packThe Tek Recon battle pack includes two hand-held blasters (one green, one orange), two targets, and about 80 of what the company calls N.R.G. rounds, which are small, thick, rubber bands that can fly up to 75 feet. The rounds are reusable, don’t leave stains, and can be loaded into removable magazines. What makes this set of blasters so much fun is that players can go beyond simply shooting each other. The blasters comes with a bracket to attach a smartphone, which (when running the free app), players can use to communicate with each other, track (using the phone’s GPS), and access special features like night vision, custom scopes, and very cool sound effects. For ages 8 and up. $34.  http://www.tekrecon.com/

I Want to Grow Up. Now.

Children learn a lot about the world by imitating us—and by “us,” we mean anyone who’s even a little older than they are. It isn’t until a few decades later, when they have children and a mortgage of their own, that they discover that being a grown-up isn’t everything they’d thought it would be. Before that harsh reality sets in, though, they want everything we have, just in a smaller size. This week we take a look at a number of toys that can introduce even the littlest kids to the essence of adulthood (minus the credit cards).

Alphaberry (B. Toys)
alphaberryLet’s say up front that B. Toys produces some of the most fun, engaging—and beautiful—toys on the market. And the Alphaberry is no exception.  Looking pretty much like a smartphone, this easy-to-hold toy is a great way to introduce very young kids to the alphabet. And while it’s battery operated (3 AAA, included), the electronics are mercifully sparse. Push any of the 26 letter buttons on the front of the device and the letter appears on the small screen and is read aloud. That’s it. Press the large button on the side to play one of four versions of the ABC song. Spin the wheel to change the color of the backlit screen. There’s also a volume control and auto shutoff. For ages 18 months to 5 years, about $18-20. http://www.mybtoys.com/

Okideoke (B. Toys)
OkideokeIt looks like a microphone but it’s more of a mini karaoke machine. There are only a few buttons, each of which is large enough (and far enough from the others) to be easily operated by a toddler. One button toggles between eight pre-recorded, familiar songs, which kids can speed up or slow down. Another allows kids to record themselves and play it back, and the last one amplifies small voices—loud enough to make it fun for the kids, but not so loud that you’ll want to take it away and give it to Goodwill. Runs on 3 AAA batteries, included. For ages 18 months to 5 years, about $15-25. http://www.mybtoys.com/

Elemenosqueeze (B. Toys)
ElemenosqueezeThese blocks are a delight. One for each letter, each sports a unique, sculpted image of an appropriately-named animal. They come in a variety of shapes: columns, arches, blocks, pyramids, and more and are made from colorful—but not annoyingly so—recycled materials. They’re also easy to handle, stackable, bathtub safe, chewable (BPA-free), and soft enough to fall on or throw at someone (not that you would ever let your child do that) without causing any pain. For ages 6 months to 3 years, about $25.50).

Hear Me and See Me (B. Toys)
see me bookWe love these interactive cloth books. Hear Me features wonderfully illustrated pages that squeak, click, rattle, and crinkle. See Me’s just-as-attractive pages let babies play “peek-a-boo, I see you” with bunnies, chickens, and elephants. No removable pieces and soy-based inks make these books safe for kids 6 months and up.

 

Brush-On, Peel-Off nail polish (Worx Toys)
brush-on peel-off nail polishIn case you missed it when it first came out in the 1980s, Brush-On, Peel-Off nail polish is back. Paint it on and it still dries quickly and is easy to peel off without nail polish remover. But to better appease today’s environmentally conscious parents, the formula is child-safe, and the container is spill-proof. Comes in 10 colors and sells for $4 in stores or on line. http://bo-po.com/

What a Livin’ Doll

If you have daughters, nieces, or, gasp, sons or nephews who like playing with dolls (and no, there’s nothing wrong with boys who play with dolls), then there’s a very good chance that you have dolls on the brain. And the floor, the furniture, your car, and everywhere else. While the choices in dolls may seem as endless as that hour between dinner and bedtime, there are some fun, new twists on the basic baby doll that have recently come out, and your little doll is sure to love ‘em.

Peek a Boo Dolly (Gund)
peek a boo gundThis cute doll is great for the youngest children. She engages them in games and actually talks to them. Peek a Boo Dolly pulls her pink blanket up over her eyes and asks, “Where did you go?” and then, a few seconds later, lowers the blanket and announces, “Peek a boo, I found you!” She says six different phrases and plays for roughly 40 seconds at a time when her button is pressed. Dolly is soft and snuggly, and kids will love to hold her. With a sweet smile on her face and fleecy clothes, she looks happy, plush, and has no small parts to choke on or come loose. She needs 3 AAA batteries, which are included. Dolly’s cousin is a brown Peek a Boo Bear, who comes with a cream colored blanket. Each retails for $40 at your favorite gift- or toy store, as well as at http://shop.gund.com

PlayTime Baby Love Ewe (Adora)
adoraThis doll is so sweet, and would make a great Easter or spring friend for your precious little one. Dressed in a little lamb-covered one-piece outfit and pink headband, she is truly adorable and kids will gravitate to her. She comes with her own bottle, her eyes open and close when you move her, and she can suck her own thumb. The best part about this baby, though, is that she’s completely machine washable. You read that right! When she gets dirty, as your kid’s favorite toy is bound to, just toss her in the wash on gentle and hang her on the line to dry. Can’t get any easier than that. These doll are handmade and have a light baby powder scent, and you and your child will appreciate the life-like features of this toy, from her little fingernails to her turned up toes. Their “skin” is made of special “Gentle Touch™ vinyl” that makes them soft and cuddly as well. Available for $35 on http://www.adoradolls.com

Cozy Cutie Drink ‘n Wet Doll (Kidoozie)
drink n wetCozy will make your child giggle and keep her (or him) busy for hours. Give the baby her bottle and she needs to run (or be carried) to the bathroom right away! Just put her on her included potty and she’ll wet. This is a great way to get kids interested in potty training, and to encourage them to go themselves (“Hey, Cozy Cutie’s doing it, wouldn’t you like to give it a try too?” Or, “Who can get to the toilet quicker—you or Cozy?” Whatever works, right?) In addition, kids love all things bathroom related, as we all know quite well, so you might get a few moments of peace and quiet as your child gives the bottle and gets baby to the potty over and over (and over and over) again. The Drink ‘n Wet doll retails for around $20 from http://international-playthings.shptron.com and comes with a removable two-piece outfit, headband, bottle, and potty seat. Drink up!

If You Build It… You’ll Have Fun

There’s nothing that says “play” better than a construction kit—and nothing that says “great way to spend time with your kids” either. So it’s no surprise that so many different manufacturers making so many different kits out of so many different materials. This week we take a look at one kit that’s traditional—in a very innovative way, and two that actually have an agenda.

Knuckz Delux (KnuckleStrutz)
knucklestrutzBefore you even open the package and start building, you’d better clear your calendar because you’re going to be need a few hours, but the time will fly. KnuckleStrutz kits are traditional in that you have a variety of pieces that you can assemble to create something. But those pieces are like nothing we’d ever seen before. KnuckeStrutz are incredibly well made: they fit together snugly—and stay that way until you take them apart to build something else. We also marveled at the engineering brains behind KnuckleStrutz who created so many pieces that can go together in so many different way.

The Knuckz Delux comes with more than 300 pieces and instructions for building two very intricate things—a fire truck and big rig truck. On the website, there are instructions for 13 more creations, including robots, motorcycles, dune buggies, and even a helicopter. The printed instructions that come with the package are sometimes hard to read, but the online PDFs are much easier. And, of course, there’s no limit to what you can create without instructions. Challenging, engaging, and great for building patience, dexterity, imagination, and parent-child relationships. Perfect for rainy days, or any other day, for that matter. Recommended for ages 6 and up, but kids under 8 or 9 will definitely need help with the instructions and may need a little assembly assistance. Kids over 10 will be able to help dad or mom when they get stuck. $78, for ages 6 and up. http://www.knucklestrutz.com/

Goldie Blox and the Parade Float
Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine
goldieblox parade floatThe folks behind Goldie Blox are very open about their mission: To inspire the next generation of female engineers, and along the way, they hope to help girls develop the spatial and building skills they’ll need. Each kit focuses on slightly different (but somewhat overlapping) skills. Goldie Blox and the Parade Float ($20 on Amazon) is designed to demonstrate wheels and axles, gear action, and vehicle design. Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine ($29) also works on wheels and axles, but adds in force, friction, and tension. Besides the pieces, each kit contains a story book in which Goldie, her friends, and even their pets overcome challenges by building various machines. The idea is to tap into girls’ verbal skills to help them discover and develop hand-eye and engineering skills.

goldieblox spinning machineWhat a terrific concept. Although meant for girls 3 to 9, we recommend Goldie Blox for the lower end of the range. Older kids may be frustrated by the stories, which will appeal much more to little kids, the small number of pieces (there are only around 30 in each kit), and the pieces themselves, which don’t always stay together as long as they should. But little girls and, perhaps, some boys who don’t mind pink tool belts and ribbons, will love Goldie Blox. http://www.goldieblox.com/

Toy Trends to Look For in 2014

Every year, manufacturers of every toy, game, electronic device, and outdoor plaything you can imagine descend on New York for Toy Fair. It’s a completely overwhelming wonderland for your inner child—and the Parents@Play team is right there to cover it all. Our goal was to find out which trends will dominate the industry this year. Some things, like monsters, zombies, mustaches, and duct tape crafts (which we picked last year as trends to look for) are still holding strong. But there are also a number of new trends waiting to pounce on this year’s unsuspecting toy buyers. Here are our favorites:
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Snowed In?

This winter has been pretty brutal for most of the country, and the endless “snow days” and “no-school days” have made a lot of families claustrophobic and, frankly, bored. So even though the worst of the polar vortex is (hopefully) behind us, here are some great boredom busters that will bring a smile to even the most jaded kids’ faces.

Power Rangers Mega Force Giant 31″ Red Ranger Action Figure (Jakks Pacific Inc.)
giant power rangerThis Power Ranger figure is more than half the size of an average six-year-old and features seven points of articulation, meaning he can be twisted and bent into a ton of different poses. The Ranger’s giant size makes him an ideal companion for eating, playing games, snuggling up on the couch, reading, and jumping out from behind doors to scare mom and dad (that’ll get old for you rather quickly but will keep your child in giggles for a lot longer). The Ranger can stand on his own two feet, which makes him the perfect Godzilla-like destroyer of block cities and crusher of other action figures. And if you do manage to make it outside, he’s so big that there’s no chance of losing him in the snow. Available online, at WalMart, or Toy R Us for about $30.

Battroborg 3-In-1 Battle Arena (TOMY)
battroborgThink of Battroborg as a modern-day “Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robot” that, like the original, will keep everyone entertained for hours and hours. Once your kids (and/or you or your spouse) break it open, cancel your plans for the rest of the evening. The set comes two bots and an arena where they’ll duke it out. It doesn’t, however, come with the batteries you’ll need to make the bots work. Players control their robots using a small, handheld remote that captures and transmits their hand movements, which the bots mimic. Each Battroborg can battle in three different competitive game modes. What’s especially cool about Battroborg’s technology is that it allows up to 20 robots to pound each other in a full-on battle royal at the same time. Available on Amazon.com and at other retailer for $80

Galaxy Tab 3 Kids (Samsung)
samsung galaxyAlthough the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids is aimed at kids, what separates it from other tablets in the kids’ category is its speed and power. At the same time, the parental controls are simple and effective. Parents can pick the apps they want to allow their kids to be able to play from an extensive list, and then restrict access to anything and everything else. Adding new apps to the list requires a parent’s password, a 4-digit code you input when first setting up the tablet. The kids menu itself is brightly colored, easy to personalize and even easier to navigate. The tablet also sports a foam/rubber case which gives the impression that it can survive a freefall from outer space. Of course, we don’t recommend testing that out, but chances are, the tablet will survive basic tumbles. Ready for the coolest feature? Once the kiddies are in bed (or at school or on a play date, or even in the bathtub), all it takes is a few clicks and a password and you’ve got yourself a fully functional Galaxy Tab 7.0″ device that you won’t be embarrassed to be seen using. The biggest challenge is just waiting your turn. Retails everywhere for about $230

A Glimpse into the Future of Toys and Games

The American International Fair gets underway next week in New York, and the Parents@Play team will be there. As in previous years, we’ll be meeting with manufacturers (small, medium, and large) and checking out the latest, greatest, unique, innovative, weird, entertaining, puzzling, creative, and just plain fun toys and games that parents and children can play together.  Naturally, we’ll be telling you about the very best.  One never knows from year to year what the hottest trends will be, but when it comes to making predictions, we’ve got an excellent record. Here are some of the categories we’ll be watching this year.

Digital tech. Doesn’t it seem that there’s an app for just about everything these days? Over the past few months, we reviewed a number of tablets and other tech devices aimed at kids. We expect to see many, many more this year.

Tech crossover. From Furby and Build a Bear to Skylanders and talking books, there are getting to be more and more toys that include a video game/web component with physical toys.

Social responsibility. Anti-bullying campaigns are everywhere. And they’ll be showing up in stores near you soon, where you’ll be able to buy toys and games that emphasize and encourage compassion, empathy, and ethical behavior.

Licensed figures. Just about every popular TV show, movie, and performer is getting involved in licensing. So in addition to classics such as Star Wars, Toy Story, Iron Man, and other superheroes, expect to see characters from The Hunger Games, Doc McStuffins, Miley Cyrus, Mr. Peabody, and even Breaking Bad. They’ll be available as action figures, plush toys, and even Lego figures.

Building systems. Although Lego still dominates the building space, there are dozens of other systems out there that encourage creativity, teamwork, and engineering.

Fitness. 2013 saw a huge boom in family fitness apps and gadgets, including fitness trackers that go far beyond old fashioned pedometers. Expect to see games, apps, and hardware that encourage families to get their daily 60 minutes of exercise.

Remote control. Joysticks may still be the primary way of maneuvering RC devices, but they’re no longer the only way. One of our favorite RC toys from 2013 was the Puzzlebox Orbit, which uses brain waves to move a helicopter up and down. We can hardly wait to see how far the technology has advanced in the past year (and what else RC will control besides robots and helicopters).

Retro. If you’re experiencing a sense of déjà vu when you walk through your local toy retailer, you’re absolutely right. Many of the toys and games we played with as kids are making a comeback. Some are exactly as we remember them (but safer). Others are pretty close.

Back to the basics. As much emphasis as there is on technology, there’s also been a resurgence in wooden toys and other items that don’t squeak, blink, whistle, move by themselves, or talk back.

Environmentally friendly. Manufacturers will be flaunting their green chops. We’ll see a lot more BPA, PVC, and phthalate-free toys, products made from recycled or all-natural materials or painted in non-toxic dyes, and games that encourage players to use items they have around the house.

With more than 1,000 exhibitors previewing tens of thousands of new products, we’re going to be seeing more than we can possibly write about in a weekly column. However, we’ll be tweeting and blogging as often as we can, so we encourage you to visit parentsatplay.com for regular updates.

Valentine’s Day: You’ve Just Gotta Love It

People tend to think of Valentine’s Day as a holiday for adult couples and we tend to forget about the kids. After all, we tell them every day that we love them (you’re doing that, right?). But why not include the kids in your Valentine’s Day shopping? Here are a few ideas for fun, sweet, simple gifts that children of almost any age will love.

Build a Bouquet (Green Toys)
build a bouquet green toysThink of the Build a Bouquet set as a very cute alternative to traditional building blocks that’s perfect for this holiday (or Spring, if you’re planning that far ahead). Your children can get their creative juices flowing and construct flower arrangements and bouquets in an endless variety of shapes and patterns. This is a gift you can feel good about giving, as well, as it’s made in the USA from 100% recycled plastic with no BPA, phthalates, PVC, or external coatings. Each 44-piece set includes four bases, 16 stem and leaf pieces, and 24 lilies, petunias, and daisy flower pieces. The Build a Bouquet pieces are wonderfully colorful and can really brighten up those drab, cold days. Recommended for ages two and up and can be found at specialty toy stores or at http://www.greentoys.com for $28.

Crystal Garden and Crystal Growing Kits (Thames and Kosmos)
crystal garden thames and kosmosIf you’d prefer to grow a garden of your own, you’ll want to check out some of the kits from Thames and Kosmos. One of our favorite educational toy companies, Thames and Kosmos consistently comes up with adorable, fun, interesting (and, yes, educational) projects that are perfect for parents and kids to do together. With the Crystal Garden kit, quick-growing real crystals “bloom” into beautiful flowers (you get to pick the colors) over the course of just a few hours. A great way to create something beautiful and to learn about how crystals are formed. They’re quite delicate, though, can’t be touched or moved, and never harden.

crystal growing thames and kosmosIf you like the crystal idea but want something a little hardier, try the Crystal Growing kit, which includes 15 crystal-related science projects for the whole family. These kits let you grow four types of crystals with different shapes, layers, and colors. Keep them in your (included) treasure box when they are done growing. Best for ages 10 and up and available for $14 and $37, respectively, at your favorite retailer or thamesandkosmos.com

Love Blanket (Rouxroo)
love blanket rouxrooHow do I love thee? Well, with Rouxroo’s Love Blanket, you can tell your baby you love him or her in 25 different languages, all printed in eye catching red, white, and black letters on an environmentally friendly, organic baby blanket and swaddler that will warm your baby and your heart. A nice keepsake for your little one’s first Valentine.  $72 at www.rouxroo.com

Itty Bittys (Hallmark)
itty bitty hallmarkStuffed sweethearts, Mickey and Minnie Mouse are available for a limited time (and in a limited edition dressed in their Valentine’s Day finest. Itty Bittys are just five inches tall, making them a perfect handful (in the very best way possible). These are perfect for your littlest love or older Disney fan on Valentine’s or any other day. Minnie and Mickey are a unique, allergy-free, sugar-free topper to a traditional bouquet or box of chocolates and they’ll last a lot longer than either one of those will. At less than $7 each, you can keep the happy couple together and not break your wallet. Available at Hallmark Gold Crown stores or on hallmark.com.