Seeing Science in the Eye of the Beholder

With everyone talking about STEM these days, we here at Parents@Play are always on the lookout for great science-themed toys, games, and activities. Here are four that focus on vision that you and your family will love.

Amusin’ Illusions (Scientific Explorer)

amusin' illusions scientific explorerOptical illusions are always entertaining to play with, but haven’t you ever wondered how and why they work? How do 3D glasses get images to pop off the screen (or page)? Why do certain patterns seem to move even when we know they’re not? How does water make objects look like they’re bent? With this fun, educational kit you’ll have the answers to these and a number of other questions about visual conundrums. Amusin’ Illusions comes with a thoughtful and nicely illustrated instruction manual that takes you through the steps of building a number of illusions and explains the science behind each one. A great parent-child activity for ages 6+. Under $14 at your favorite retailer or www.alexbrands.com

Smithsonian Plasma Ball (NSI)

smithsonian plasma ballThis beautiful-to-look-at ball responds to sound, music, and touch and puts an amazing light show at your fingertip, literally. So what do you do with a plasma ball besides look at it? To start with, you can use it to learn—safely—about electricity (including making your own lightning and even charging your phone). If you’ve got a Star Wars fan around the house, you can create a light saber with your plasma ball and a long fluorescent blub. You’ll find some great videos on YouTube with lots of other tips, tricks, and lessons. The Ball plugs in so you don’t need batteries. The manufacturer says it’s for ages 14+, but if you’re there to supervise, younger kids can enjoy it too. Retails online and off for under $35.

Smithsonian Planetarium Projector (NSI)

smithsonian planetarium projectorThis dual-function projector brings the nighttime sky in all its glory, right into your room. The larger projector shows the northern sky and can be rotated to match what you can see outside (assuming there isn’t too much light pollution). The smaller projector uses three discs to show a total of 24 images, which you can project individually or in combinations. These include the planets, some natural celestial phenomena (nebulae, galaxies, asteroids, and more), and human-made items (satellite, lunar orbiter, space shuttle, and more). The Planetarium Projector definitely feels like a toy, but it’s great for learning about constellations and a lot of other cool astrological stuff. You’ll need three AA batteries (not included) and about three minutes for assembly. It’s for ages 8+ and retails for under $40.

Dr. Eureka Mix the Molecules (Blue Orange)

blue orange dr. eureka moleculesAfter you’ve learned about optical illusions, made your own lightning, and gazed at the stars, you deserve a break. So get the family together and get ready for some brain-teasing fun. Despite the name, Dr. Eureka isn’t really about science concepts, but it is about thinking. Each person (the game is for 1 to 4 players) has three test tubes and six colored “molecules” (two each of red, green, and purple). Put a matching pair of molecules in each tube. Then turn over a challenge card, which has a picture of how the molecules should end up. Then all you do is race the other players to make your test tubes look like the ones on the card. It’s simple. Except for the part about not being able to touch the molecules with your hands—you have to pour them back and forth until you achieve the desired result. It’s for ages 8+ and costs under $40. http://www.blueorangegames.com

Gearing up for Winter

As you head out into the blustery, winter-y weather that has already descended on many of us, you’ll want to make sure the kids are well equipped to handle everything that mother nature dishes out. Here are some of our favorites for your snow days.

Boy’s Dedicate Jacket (Dare 2b)

dare 2 b jacketOne of the most important winter wear items is a durable, water-resistant coat, and this one is great for both daily wear and serious outdoor play. It not only wears well, but has all sorts of features that your kids (and you) will love, including a waterproof outer layer, a hood that detaches (but doesn’t fall off), and elastic trim for easy adjusting. It also has internal mesh pockets, all of which zip (which should reduce the number of gloves that get lost), and bight, reflective details, making spotting your child on the trails or during snowball fights even easier. For girls, there’s the Entrust Jacket—same coat, different name Both are about $140 at http://www.dare2b.com. Infant snuggler suits (one-piece coats for babies) are also available for about $50 each.

Jr Rascal Gloves (Seirus)

It’s hard to play outside for very long with cold, wet hands, right? These cool gloves come in fun options like skeleton, zombie, and digi (think video game/Minecraft looking), and feel as good as they look. Kids will like them because they’re fun, and you’ll like them because they’re functional and do their job well. They’re windproof, water resistant, and have Heatlock insulation to keep little hands warm. They also feature a gauntlet cuff that cinches easily to help keep ice and snow from getting inside. We especially love the SureGrip on the palms and fingers that makes it easier to maintain a grip on whatever you’re trying to keep in your hands. About $30 at http://www.seirus.com

Icebug Myoko BUGweb GTX (Icebug)

If there’s any snow trekking in your future, you’ll love these kids’ boot (and yes, the company also makes shoes and boots for adults). These boots are cut slightly higher than the ankle, are comfortable to wear, and have plenty of fleece insulation to keep your feet warm. (which means no complaints about sore or cold feet). And the GORE-TEX outer shell will keep your child’s feet dry. They’re also easy to put on and take off, and parent who’ve had wars with snow boots will appreciate the double Velcro that kids can adjust themselves. $169.95 at http://icebug.com/us

Hi-Tec Socks (Hi-Tec)

Most people forget about socks until it’s too late, but in winter, you won’t want to put on your boots with out a pair that’s warm, comfortable, and high. Yes, high—at least mid calf—because there’s nothing more annoying then a sock that slides down under your foot while you’re walking about. Hi-Tec makes socks for men and women, and we’ve worn them on a multitude of activities and climates and have been very happy with them. They’re soft, they stay where you want them to, have plenty of cushioning, and a reinforced heel and toe. They also have arch support and compression, which is pretty advanced stuff for a sock. Retail price is $15 – $20, which might seem like a lot for socks, but they do flex an awful lot of muscle, and you’ll be surprised at how much happier your feet are when they’re warmer for longer and when you don’t have to deal with all of that annoying, under-the-heel nonsense that often happens when wearing boots. http://us.hi-tec.com/accessories.html

Cleaning up on the Holidays

Now that the Holidays are a (hopefully) pleasant memory, what do you do with all the leftovers? Here are some of our favorite finds that will help give 2016 a clean sweep and start your 2017 with an even cleaner slate.

Shark Rocket Complete

shark rocket completePeople have been traipsing in and out of your home for months now. And whether it’s winter mud, snow, salt, spilled food, or random holiday wrapping and decorations, the floors are a mess, and could really use a deep cleaning, right? The Shark Rocket Complete is a beast of a vacuum, with two powered brush rolls to make sure every bit of debris gets picked up. On hard flooring, the two rolls pick up large, small, and stuck-on items. On carpet, they pull in large particles and deep clean to remove ground-in dirt. Working together, these two brush rolls make quick work of just about any dry mess you can think of—and they handle regular vacuuming around the house, too. http://www.sharkclean.com

 

Shark Genius Steam Pocket Mop System

shark geniusFor cleaning sealed hard floors—which an ordinary vacuum isn’t built for—the Genius uses steam to release most messes, lifting them away without you ever having to touch them. The Steam Blaster was created for stuck-on or greasy messes. It applies steam directly to loosen up those problem areas and uses a pad to wipe the mess away. According to the manufacturer, that pad also removes 99.9% of common household bacteria. So you get two solutions in one: an amazing clean without having to get your hands dirty. You can even detach the pad directly into the laundry with a simple push of a button. Oh, and did we mention that you don’t need to buy more pads? http://www.sharkclean.com

Nutri Ninja Nutri Bowl DUO

ninja nutri bowl duoOnce your house is back to normal, you may be thinking about cleaning up your eating habits as well. Look no further than the Nutri Ninja DUO, which is an all-in-one blender, fusion machine for food prep, and processor. It can break down whole foods, seeds, ice, nuts, and more. This machine is so versatile, that you’ll find yourself firing it up for more than you’d expect. Plus, it’s fun. Addicting, even. The Nutrient & Vitamin Extraction and Pro Extractor Blades Assembly make amazing smoothies and shakes as well as pops and purees, dough, and just about anything else you can conjure up. And if you need some conjuring inspiration, the DUO comes with a terrific recipe book. Once you get the hang of using these devices (which won’t take long) you’ll be whipping up nutritious and delicious meals and snacks for your family and yourself every day. http://www.ninjakitchen.com

Ninja Coffee Bar System

ninja coffee bar systemWhether you’re a coffee fanatic or just someone who spends more time and money in coffee houses than you know you should, this is a great way to free up your calendar and improve your finances at the same time. The Ninja Coffee Bar System is neither so huge that it takes up your entire counter, nor so expensive that you’ll need to take out a loan to purchase it. Plus, it’s easy to use and doesn’t require those expensive (not to mention environmentally unfriendly) pods. The System makes a variety of coffees (including iced coffees) and comes with a number of drink recipes that will help you expand your coffee-drinking horizons. It also includes a milk frother (which will soon have you wondering how you ever lived without one) and Ninja’s exclusive Café Forte to amplify the flavors of your drinks. http://www.sharkclean.com

Blasting into the New Year

Because playing with your kids—no matter how old they are—is a blast, here are some great ways to start your 2017 off with well, a blast.

 

Laser X Two Player Laser Gaming Set (NSI International, Inc.)

laser xThere are a lot of words to describe Laser X, but to keep the list short, we’ll limit ourselves to “Wow!” “Amazing!” “Cool!” “Whooo—hooo!” and, most importantly, “Let’s do it again!” Get the point? We reviewed the two-player set, which, if you’re a laser newbie, is the only way to go. Playing against someone else is infinitely more fun than playing by yourself. This set comes with two laser blasters, two vests, an interactive “coach” who tells you to get down and lets you know when you’re running low on ammo, cool sound effects, and hours of fun. It’s great for outdoor or indoor play, and since the vests and blasters glow, it’s especially fun at night. It’s also compatible with other Laser X equipment so you can field teams. Each vest allows you to select Red Team, Blue Team, or to go rogue and blast everyone. Ages 6-16. $24.99 for a single blaster and vest and $49.99 for a double set at major retailers or at www.GetLaserX.com.

Skypaper PPL-1 (The Bridge Direct)

skypaper ppl-1Making paper airplanes is a great parent-child activity, with opportunities for both cooperative and competitive play. But there’s nothing more frustrating than tossing your newly created aircraft and having it nosedive three feet in front of you. With the Skypaper PPL-1, that’ll never happen.  Instead, you’ll be able launch your planes up to 100 feet. It comes with 24 planes and easy-to-follow instructions. You can download even more at www.skypapertoys.com. Ages 6+. Under $20 at www.toysrus.com and other retailers.

 

Firetek Zyclone Ring Launcher (Zing)

firetek zycloneThis double-take provoking shooter is pretty much the opposite of most other blaster-type toys. Instead of shooting an object at a target, you’re essentially launching the target itself—in this case, a large glowing ring. Since you can send the ring up to 100 feet, this anti-blaster is best for outdoor play. Ages 6+. About $30, only at Target.

 

Air Warriors Ultra-Tek Blasters (Buzz Bee Toys/Alex)

air warriorsBuzz Bee makes a dizzying variety of blasters. Night Tek fires darts up to 72 feet. It comes with six long-distance suction darts and can use long-distance- and foam darts from other shooters. What’s especially cool is the pop-up night vision scope, which allows you to see your target night or day. Destiny doesn’t launch its darts as far (“only” 60 feet). But it can unload 20 in just two seconds! Just load the clip, snap it in, pump the handle, and whoosh. Both are for ages 6+. Night Tek requires batteries and retails for about $13. Destiny doesn’t need batteries and retails for under $28. http://buzzbeetoys.com

Adventure Force Enforcer Belt Blaster (Walmart)

adventure force enforcerThis fully automatic belt driven monster is one of the most unique-looking blasters we’ve seen and will strike fear into the hearts of your less-equipped blaster-battle opponents. It’s accurate and quick—shooting 40 darts in under 30 seconds—and has an 80-foot range. It assembles fairly quickly but takes some time to load up the darts. However, firing it is exhilarating. Batteries required. Ages 8+. Under $30 at www.walmart.com.

 

Magnum Superdrum Blaster (Prime Time Toys)

magnum blasterLike the Enforcer, Prime Time’s Magnum is fully automatic, holds 40 darts, has a range of 80 feet, and is pretty intimidating. What’s nice is that its darts work with other Dart Zone blasters and it can hold darts from other brands. Ages 8+. Under $35 at major retailers. http://www.primetimetoys.com.

Parents@Play Gift Guide #7: There’s Still Time, But You’d Better Hurry…

You mean you haven’t finished your Holiday shopping yet? Not to worry. Here are some great last-minute options that are sure to please.

 

Compete Hot Wheels Edition Wearable (nabi)

nabi compete hotwheelsIn theory, this fitness tracker for kids is pretty similar to the one you may have your wrist, with its step counter and a promise to make exercise less boring. But unlike most trackers for adults, this one actually keeps that promise by truly making exercise fun by letting kids set distance goals such as a marathon or a run across the Brooklyn Bridge, giving kids info on how much activity they’ll need to do to burn of that bag of chips or slice of pizza (an approach that has been proven much more successful than simply listing calories and grams of fat), and providing all sorts of other incentives to get up and move. Ages 6+. Plain nabi Competes are under $40 for a pair. Barbie- and Hot Wheels branded Competes are under $30 for one. https://www.nabitablet.com/wearables/compete

 

Kurio Watch (KD Interactive)

kurio watchIf you’ve got an Apple Watch, Samsung Gear, or one of the other smartwatches out there (from Sony, Pebble, Garmin, Fitbit, etc.), there’s a good chance that your kids are jealous and want one too. Unfortunately (for the kids—especially little ones), smartwatches are just too expensive. Until now. The new Kurio Watch is designed especially for kids and is so packed with features that you may be the jealous one. The Watch shoots video and takes still pics, has a built-in accelerometer and some really fun games, messages with any Android device, has an ICE (in case of emergency) function, comes in a variety of colors, and even tells time. Ages 6+. Under $60. http://www.kurioworld.com

 

SE Tablet (nabi)

nabi SE tabletMost parents these days are justifiably concerned about kids spending too much time on screens. But we also understand that there’s a difference between good screens and bad ones. The new nabi SE tablet is a good one. Of course, it comes pre-loaded with games and an entire education system. But there are a few features that set nabi apart from other kids’ tablets. You can configure nabi to reward your kids for doing chores and making other good choices. And it has a customizable—and completely safe—social network for messaging, sharing pics, and more: No one can connect with your kids unless they have a unique friend code. Ages 4-6. Under $80. https://www.nabitablet.com

 

Neon Street Rollers (Yvolution)

neon street rollerRemember Heelys—those cool-looking shoes with wheels in the heels? How ‘bout good, old-fashioned roller blades (or roller skates, which are making something of a comeback)? Well, now, you can get that delightful, rolling experience without having to change your shoes. Neon Street Rollers fit over almost any footwear, are fully (and easily) adjustable, snug, and more stable than Heelys, since the wheels are positioned on the outside of each foot instead of centered under the heel. The LEDs in the wheels flash when you’re moving (without batteries!), which makes Rollers even cooler. Ages 6+. Under $30 at Amazon and other retailers. https://www.amazon.com

 

Super Wubble (NSI)

super wubbleIf you like Wubble (and who doesn’t?), you’ll love Super Wubble, which is made of Xpandium, a stronger, stretchier, and bouncier material that makes this giant ball incredibly fun. Just break out the battery-operated pump (batteries not included) and you’re ready to go within minutes. All you need is a ton of energy and some wide, open spaces (we don’t recommend Wubble for indoor use). Also comes with a patch kit, just in case you succeed in puncturing the Xpandium. For all ages. Under $30. http://wubbleball.com

Parents@Play Gift Guide #6: Animals

Is your child begging for a new pet this year, but you’re not excited about having to clean up after yet another member of the family? Look no further: Here’s an array of low-maintenance pets for your young animal lover.

Zoomer Chimp (Spin Master)

zoomer chimpThe latest in the line of Zoomer robotic pets, this little guy has all the moves—standing upright or on all fours. Right out of the box, he knows 10 commands (watch what happens when you tell him to “go bananas”), and you can teach him even more. Zoomer Chimp makes a lot of sounds, has built-in “progressive play” (meaning that he doesn’t always move the same way), and he’ll let you know how he’s feeling by facial expressions and the color of his eyes. His wiggles and dances are adorable and funny, but he’ll need batteries, which aren’t included. Ages 5+. Prices vary widely, so shop around. http://www.spinmaster.com


 

Zoomer Hedgiez (Spin Master)

zoomer hedgiezEven though they’re part of the Zoomer family, Hedgiez are a little less frantic than their robotic cousins (after all, hedgehogs aren’t known for their wild parties). Hedgiez come in several colors, do tricks, roll around, and love to play, cuddle, and giggle. The fur is soft and can be brushed or styled with the included comb. Hedgiez curl up when tickled (very cute) and blow you kisses. Batteries aren’t included, but a bunch of stickers are. Ages 5+. Prices vary. http://www.spinmaster.com


 

Chubby Puppies and Friends (Chubby Puppies)

chubby puppiesThese cute pets have been around for a while, but they just keep getting better. There are a lot more dogs now, and the company has added a variety of other animals, including bunnies, horses, pandas, and all kinds of cats. Some come with their own babies, and others come with “fashion sets,” like a carrying bag for the pup and accessories, such as sunglasses and bows. Larger playsets, such as a dog park and a fashion runway, are available too. Regardless of species, all Chubby Puppies need an AAA battery (included—yeah!) to walk, hop, and waddle. Ages 4+. $7.99 for individual pets, more for fashion sets and playsets. http://chubbypuppies.com


 

Build-A-Bear Workshop Stuffing Station (Spin Master)

build-a-bear workshop stuffing Now you can create your own stuffed toys at home, just like in the stores. Each kit contains one Stuffing Station (which runs on kid power—batteries not required!), two Furry Friends (one bear, one bunny), two shirts, two hearts, two bags of stuffing, instructions, accessories, and adoption/birth certificates. Yes, you can get refills and more animals to stuff. Ages 4+, $29.99. https://shop.spinmaster.com


 

Peppy Pups

peppy pupsThese pets have sweet faces, soft fur, are zero-tech, and will get your kids outside and moving. What could be better than that? Your Pup will follow you everywhere. Take him (or her) for a walk (indoors or out) and he’ll prance alongside, run, and even give bouncy “jumps” since he literally has a spring in his step. No baggies required. Ages 4+. $19.99 at Toys “R” Us, Amazon, and elsewhere.


 

Baby So Real (Cabbage Patch Kids)

cabbage patch baby so realWhat if your little one is begging for a new brother or sister instead of a pet? Well, for the first time, CPK has created an interactive doll experience. These life-like baby dolls have those classic Cabbage Patch looks but are loaded with the latest technology. They coo, burp, sleep, and even run a fever, which gives your child a chance to play mommy or daddy in a fairly authentic way—diaper changes included. The doll’s eyes open, close, and look around the room, and it has random reactions, just like “real” babies. As with all Cabbage Patch Kids, Baby So Real is soft and snuggly, and comes with removable clothes (additional outfits sold separately). And yes, there’s an app for that. It’s free, and simulates a baby monitor. Ages 4+. Under $100.  http://www.cabbagepatchkids.com


Parents@Play Gift Guide #5: WowWee! Robots, Coding, and More

These toys are so great they need no introduction!

CHiP (WowWee)

wowwee chipIn a word, CHiP is amazing. He’s a smart, trainable, affectionate robot puppy that’s always ready to play. Tell him to fetch, and he’ll bolt after his Bluetooth-enabled ball. Give him a kiss, and he’ll give you a slobber-free one right back. Tell him to do yoga, and he’ll do a perfect downward-facing dog (no cat-cow for this little guy). If you wear the SmartBand, he’ll follow you around the house. But if you ignore him for more than a few minutes, he’ll bark to attract your attention. The voice-recognition is great and so is the hardware, which enables CHiP to avoid obstacles and respond to a variety of touches and gestures. The wheels are especially cool and allow CHiP to move in any direction—even sideways—and on almost any surface. You can play with CHiP for hours on a single charge, and when his energy level drops, his eyes change color and he automatically makes his way back to his SmartBed to nap. Ages 8+. Around $180. http://wowwee.com

 

COJI (WowWee)

wowwee cojiAnother wonderful tech toy from WowWee. This highly interactive, smart, and wonderfully engaging robot will help your child learn to do basic coding by using emojis, hence the name: code + emoji = coji. There’s an app, of course, and it’s a good one, filed with games that encourage memory, problem-solving, and creative thinking. And there are plenty of coding challenges, such as navigating Coji through a maze. Your child does the programming on the app, and if you get it right, Coji spins around, does a little dance, and displays fireworks or other happy emojis on his screen. Your child can use the app without Coji or play with Coju without the app, using his remote control functions. Batteries not included. Ages 4+. Around $45. http://wowwee.com

 

Cubetto (Primo Toys)

primo cubettoCoding without a screen, apps, or even written instructions? Sounds impossible, right? Wrong! Primo has created a delightful—and beautiful—way to introduce basic coding concepts to very little kids. There are four components: Cubetto him- or herself, a cloth “map” for Cubetto to move around on, 16 coding blocks, and a programming “tablet.” Kids place Cubetto on the map, decide where they want him to go, and use the blocks (left turn, right turn, straight ahead, and even function) to make that happen. It’s very intuitive and hands-on, and does a great job of bringing the digital and tactile worlds together. We also love that Cubetto is made mostly of wood and is completely gender neutral. Ages 3+. About $225. https://www.primotoys.com

 

Edwin the Duck (pi lab)

edwin the duckThis is not your father’s, mother’s, or even Ernie’s (you know, from Sesame Street) rubber duckie, and that’s a good thing. While Edwin isn’t exactly a robot, he’s definitely smart, connected, and full of fun, educational games. Edwin is a lovely stand-alone (or float-alone) companion for your little one, but he also interacts with his digital world. Oh, and for you, he’s got a temperature sensor so you won’t plop your baby into a bath that’s too hot, a built-in Bluetooth speaker so you can stream your favorite music, and a nightlight for when bath time and playtime are over. Safe for kids as young as 8 months. Under $100. https://www.edwintheduck.com

Zoomer Marshall PAW Patrol Dalmatian (Spin Master)

spin master zoomerPAW Patrol’s Dalmatian fire dog is ready to roll, with more than 80 interactive rescue missions and tricks, and 150 sounds and phrases. He also plays the “PAW Patrol” theme song (and dances to it), has water cannons to shoot (not real water), and more. Just charge him up, pat his head, and get ready to save the day. AA batteries not included. Ages 3+. Available from KMart’s Fab15 list for about $70, prices at other retailers vary. http://www.spinmaster.com

 

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.