Straight from the Heart

Looking for the perfect gift for your kids and spouse this Valentine’s Day? We’ve put together a little list to make your shopping that much easier. Check out some of our picks, and see what strikes your fancy.

Love-a-Saurus Techno Plush (Hallmark)

hallmark lova-a-saurusPush his button, and this bright red cutie roars, dances, and breaks it down to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.” The young ‘uns will groove while ma and pa wax nostalgic. It’s $33, or $18 when you buy three Hallmark cards. You can also find an assortment of adorable itty bittys—sweet toys that fit in the palm of your hand, including the new Thing 1 and Thing 2 (your favorite troublemakers from Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat). They’re available for $7 each. You can pick up these items or any of Hallmark’s classic cards at www.hallmark.com  and Hallmark Gold Crown stores.

Customizable Valentine’s Jewelry (Origami Owl)

origami owl customizable jewelryFor tweens, teens, spouses, and other ladies in your life, we love the lovely gifts from Oragami Owl. Not only is the jewelry beautiful, but you can customize it for the one you love. Choose the color, size, shape, the charms that go inside and/or outside, the length and type of chain used, and all the other details. You can even add Swarovski crystals for a bit more color and sparkle. Origami Owl lets you pick out items that highlight special memories about your Valentine, and will be a truly cherished reminder of the special bond you two share. Choose from necklaces, bracelets, wrap bracelets (a hot trend right now), lockets, and more. Prices vary. Visit www.OrigamiOwl.com

Nail Polish (Duri)

Duri non toxic nail polishAnother option for the girls and women in your life is Duri’s environmentally-friendly, non-toxic nail polish collection, that’s free from DBP, formaldehyde, and other nasty stuff. You can buy individual bottles or a cute Valentine’s Day set of four. While there are more than 250 shades of Duri, the Valentine’s Day collection includes “every-day-is-Valentine’s-Day” red, “cupid-rules” pink, pastel “iced roses,” “unexpected kiss” (a light purple-pink), and “sweetheart.” (a bright orangey-red) A great gift anyone—male or female—who loves a mani-pedi. Singles are $6 each; the gift is $24 at www.duri.com

iPhone Heart Charging Cable (ThinkGeek)

thinkGeek iPhone Heart Charging CableFor the nerdy love in your life, ThinkGeek has a few fun options that are perfect for those with a taste for tech, comic books, sci-fi, and, of course, Star Wars. For a fun twist on classic Valentine’s Day gifts, we love the charging cable for the iPhone 5/6 (it also works with your iPad). The 46” cable has eight tiny, plastic LED red hearts that light up when it’s plugged in and charging. For just $14.99, you can show how strong and bright your love is, and that it’s endlessly renewable.

Star Wars Bouquet (ThinkGeek)

ThinkGeek Star Wars BouquetsTired of giving people the same old, same old floral arrangements? Wouldn’t they rather get a bouquet of long-stemmed Star Wars characters? These arrangements come in three styles: The “Assortment” (Boba Fett, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, two Ewoks, and three Stormtroopers), the “Darth Vader” (Darth Vader and eight Stormtroopers), and the “Droid” (three each of R2-D2, R2-Q5, and R2-D9). These clever gifts are sure to be a conversation piece, and something that’ll make all the other geeks jealous. Who has the best spouse? Yeah, you know it. Bouquets are $60 each at http://www.thinkgeek.com/gifts/.

Some Assembly Required

Some games are ready to go right out of the box. Others require a little more work. Here are four interactive kits that we know will keep you and your kids entertained for hours.

Light It and Shake It (lectrify)

lectrify itLectrify is a new company whose mission is to “make it easy and accessible for makers of all ages to build mechanical and electronic projects.” And after trying two of their kits, we can assure you that the company is achieving that goal. The core of each kit is a fully-functional circuit board. Light It includes a battery, two LEDs, an on/off switch, and a momentary switch (like an on/off switch but it only works when you press and hold it). Shake It includes a battery, on/off switch, vibrating motor, and more. Young makers (and their parents) can experiment with the board. Then, when they’re feeling confident, they can snap the components out of the board and embed them in any project they’d like. One especially cool feature is that the circuit components are compatible with LEGO and other systems, so it’s easy to add some special features to your LEGO creations. The possibilities are unlimited, but if you want some suggestions, there are plenty on the website. For ages 5 and up (with adult supervision). Prices vary. http://www.lectrify.it/

Totally Irresponsible Science Kit (Sean Connolly)

totally irresponsible scienceSean Connolly has done a great service for science and math, making both subjects a lot more interesting and engaging. The titles of two of his previous books should give you an idea of his strategy: “The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists” and “The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math: 24 Death-Defying Challenges for Young Mathematicians.” The experiments in this book/kit combo aren’t terribly new, but it’s the approach that counts. For example, learning how to make bubbles out of soap or generate static electricity is okay (yawn). But when you put it in terms of encasing your little brother in a giant bubble or shooting a bolt of lightning from your fingertip, now you’ve got something fun. Includes the book, a beaker, a test tube, and a measuring spoon. The rest of the ingredients you probably have around the house. For ages 7 and up.  $15 on www.amazon.com

Build a Knight’s Castle: Paper Toy Archaeology (Annalie Seaman)

build a kinght's castleWhat a great way to spark in interest in archeology. You and your child start by reading about how people in medieval times lived, built their castles, and defended them. Along the way, Annalie Seaman, an archeologist and educator, shows you how to pull clues from medieval documents, paintings, maps, burial sites, scraps of metal, and more. Then, you use that knowledge to build a 3D castle using pieces that pop out of the book—knights and weapons included. For ages 5 and up. Under $11 on www.amazon.com

Malia’s Beach House Building Kit (Build & Imagine)

malia's beach houseAimed mostly at girls (although plenty of boys will enjoy it too), this constructible dollhouse helps bring out those all-important STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) skills, including building, spatial reasoning, and problem solving. Build & Imagine has a number of kits, all of which use magnetic panels and pieces and are 100% compatible with each other. This one includes Malia and Skyler dolls, 17 dual-sided, illustrated panels, and a few dozen accessories. Kids design and build their own indoor- or outdoor world. Once that’s done, they can incorporate the dolls, clothes, and other accessories and props to create any scene they’d like. For age 4 and up $60. https://www.buildandimagine.com/

Are We Having Fun Yet?

It’s still cold outside, but there’s still plenty of family fun to be had. Here are a few winners of the recent Mr. Dad Seal of Approval (mrdad.com/seal), plus some other great options.

Spanish for Kids: The Ultimate Collection (Whistlefritz)

Spanish-Ultimate-CollectionThis cute video features an adorable, animated mouse and a Spanish-speaking senorita who have teamed up to help you learn Spanish. It’s really sweet, and has fun and upbeat music that the kids can enjoy while learning a new language. The one drawback is that it’s entirely in Spanish, which can make it a little hard for kids to follow along unless they already know some Spanish vocabulary. We worry that the kids might give up too quickly. That said, this Collection would be great to use in conjunction with other Spanish language learning sets (including those made by Whistlefritz). As the kids become more fluent (which shouldn’t take too long), you can use this DVD more regularly. Ages 2-6. $115.00. Buy it at www.whistlefritz.com

Happy Wrap (Happy Baby Wrap)

happy baby wrapBabywearing is an easy and effective way for dads (and moms) to get tons of cuddle and bonding time with baby while boosting those all-important feelings of competence and confidence. These lightweight, breathable wraps have no buckles or rings and are one-size-fits-most, so you and the baby-mama can share one wrap. They come in a variety of prints and can safely and ergonomically support a baby up to 25 pounds (translation: less back pain for ma and pa than many baby carriers). $48-$55. www.happybabywrap.com

Shampoo & Body Wash (Nature’s Baby Organics)

nature's organics shampoo and baby washToday’s dads are involved in every aspect of parenting, and bathing the kiddies is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the best jobs ever. Really. But some of the “baby” shampoos and bath products out there have a—there’s no nice way to say this—stench. That’s not a great thing under normal circumstances. And it’s especially unpleasant if anyone in your family is sensitive to scents. Nature’s Baby has figured out a way to clean and moisturize our littlest monsters, leaving them smelling delicious–like coconut and pineapple. Also comes in lavender-chamomile and vanilla-tangerine. $17.95 for a 16-oz. bottle. www.naturesbaby.com

King’s Gold (Blue Orange Games)

blue orange king's goldThink Yahtzee meets Jack Sparow. Pirates take turns rolling the five custom dice (instead of numbers, the faces have coins, skulls, cannons, or crossbones). You can roll up to three times, keeping some or all, trying to make certain combinations, which allow you to take coins from your opponents (or the king, who gets a cut of all your winnings). Play wisely and you’ll become the richest pirate in the Caribbean. About $14.00. 2-6 players, ages 8 and up. www.blueorangegames.com

Draw 4 (Blue Orange Games)

blue orange draw 4The dig starts by creating an excavation zone, consisting of face-down dinosaur bone cards and action cards. Players take turns removing cards from the zone, trying to assemble complete dinos. The action cards can speed things up or cost you your turn—or your bones! About $13.50. 2-5 players, ages 5 and up. www.blueorangegames.com

X6 Zoom Rocketz (Zing)

zing zoom rocketzThere’s no strategy, no stealing cards from your opponents, and nothing to assemble here. Zoom Rocketz is all about competing to see who can send six rockets the farthest. The harder you stomp on the launch pad, the better. Depending on the angle of the launcher, you can go for height or distance. Comes with one launcher (which automatically rotates and loads the next rocket) and six rockets. About $20 at your favorite retailerFor kids 8 and up, and definitely for outdoor play only. www.zingtoys.com

Cold Enough for You?

With much of the USA spending a lot of their time indoors these days, it’s important to think about what the kids are doing to entertain themselves. Here are a few of our current favorite toys to while away the winter.

Star Wars Hero Mashers (Hasbro)

star wars hero masherHasbro’s previous Mashers sets have included Spiderman, Jurassic’s World dinosaurs, and Transformers, so Star Wars couldn’t have been far behind. Oddly, though, only the male characters are available. Despite that glaring oversight, these toys are amazingly fun and give children hours of play, acting out favorite episodes, comics, and making up their own adventures. These figures are nicely articulated and fully interchangeable, so you can swap heads, arms, weapons, and everything else to create your very own ultimate hero (or villain). The only thing that would make them better would be to bring on Rey, Black Widow, Jessica Jones (without the booze), and the other leading ladies of heroism. Women matter. Hey—without Rey, how does the Force awaken, anyway? Prices vary. Learn more at http://www.hasbro.com/en-us/brands/heromashers

Marvel Legends Infinite Series (Hasbro)

marvel legends infiniteAha! If you’re looking for those female action figures, they’re over here, sitting on shelves right next to the guys. So now Wasp, Spidergirl, and a few others can join your child in adventures with Ant Man, Spiderman, Iron Man, Venom, and more. The Infinite Series is great for a number of reasons. First, the figures really look like their characters. Second, the line also includes some hard-to-find characters. Third, all of the figures are nicely articulated and seem to be begging you to pick them up and play with them (as opposed to collector editions that look great on a shelf but won’t stand up to being tossed around. Fourth, when you buy one, you get a bonus piece: an arm, a head, or something else that you can use to build a whole new toy once your collection is complete. Why wait for Marvel to create a new superhero when you can do it yourself? Around $20 each at stores like Toys R Us.

DigiBirds (Spinmaster)

digibirdThese friendly birds are adorable, and come in a variety of breeds, colors, and packages. You can get owls, penguins, chicks, and others one at a time, in multi packs, and in sets that include a birdcage, igloo, or another habitat. There are so many options that your child can assemble a whole chorus of tweeting friends. DigiBirds dance, bop, chirp, sing—either alone or in ensembles with their buddies—and do pretty much everything real birds do but fly and, oh, you know. Your child can blow into the (included) whistle ring to get the party started, or she can place two birds close together and they’ll automatically sync up and sing together. Want to expand the birds’ repertoires? Just download the free DigiBirds app. Prices start at about $10.99 at stores like Kmart. Learn more at http://us.digibirds.com/

Star Wars Disney Infiniti (Disney)

disney infinityWhile we’re strong with the Force, have you and your children played the new Disney Infinity 3.0 yet? It’s fun, interactive, and if you don’t already own one, it may become your console of choice. Some Infiniti characters are already out, and the most recent releases include Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren. You and your kids can awaken the Force, become a Rebel, or create new scenarios with your favorite Disney characters who’ve made the jump from a screen to your living room floor. Where else can Boba Fett and Princess Jasmine hang out, after all? Learn more at https://infinity.disney.com

You’ll Love This—I Give You My Word!

How many times have you told your children to “use your words”? Now it’s your turn.

accentuateAccentuate – The Fun of Accents (Accentuate Games)
Do you think you’re good at identifying accents? How about imitating them? You’ll need both to win at Accentuate. Each team pics a speaker, who randomly selects cards from two decks: one with quotations, the other with names of languages or regions (there are 30 choices, including French, Russian, Canadian, Irish, Japanese, Italian, Boston, Minnesota, New York, and Jamaican). The speaker reads the quotation in his or her normal voice. Then, someone starts the timer and the speaker repeats the quotation over and over in the required accent. No gestures, shrugs, head movements, or any other physical hints allowed. If the team correctly identifies the accent, they score. Accentuate is an intelligent, fun game aimed at ages 16+, although sophisticated younger kids will enjoy it too. Takes 30-45 minutes to play. $29.95 at http://www.accentuategames.com/

word's outWord’s Out (Jax Games)
From the makers of the Sequence games (many of which we’ve reviewed here), comes this fun word game that’s reminiscent of Bingo. The object is to match letters from a card in front of you to a “lettergraph,” a grid that has all 26 letters of the alphabet. To do that, you roll two dice, one of which has colors on each face, the other has shapes. If you roll triangle blue, you’d get T. If that’s one of the letters in your word, great—one down, five to go. If not, you have to pick a card, which could make you lose one of your chips, remove an opponent’s chip, or swap words. An excellent game for building vocabulary and brushing up on spelling. For two to four players, ages 7+. $15.98. http://www.jaxgames.com/

zoo bingoListen & Play Zoo Bingo (The Learning Journey)
Pre-readers and early readers (and their parents, of course) will love this colorful matching game. It starts with pushing the Electronic Sound button. Then, identify the sound and find the corresponding card. Little kids will be able to match the sound to a picture, older kids can match the sound to the printed word that’s on the other side of the card. A fun way to introduce letter- and sight-word recognition. For two to four players, ages 3+. $14.99. http://www.tlji.com/

original aliasOriginal Alias (Tactic Games)
Think of Alias as a type of verbal charades. The idea is for one team member to explain to the rest of the team as many words as possible within a minute. The team moves its pawn ahead one space for each correct answer. The emphasis here is on explaining. If you want to make it a little more challenging, don’t allow gestures or acting. Original Alias comes with 400 cards, each with eight words, for a total of 3200 possibilities, so it’ll be a while before you go through all of them. The fun comes from seeing how difficult it is for intelligent people to explain some of the simplest words. Original Alias is for four or more players, ages 10+. However, there are a number of variations to the basic platform. Alias Junior is for players 5+, Family, for 7+, and Party for 11+. There’s even one that incorporates dice.  But the format is always the same (use your words to explain other words), and so are the results (a lot of laughs and a deeper understanding of the vocabulary you use every day). Original Alias retails for $34.99. Prices for the others vary. http://www.tactic.net/

Gaming the New Year

It’s a brand new year, and if one of your resolutions is to spend more time having fun with your family (if it isn’t, you really need to reevaluate your priorities), these great family games will keep you on track—and laughing.

lift itLift It! Deluxe (USAOpoly)
From the Parents@Play Department of New Twists comes, well, a new twist on the recreate-the-structure-on-the-card games that we love so much. The object of the game is pretty basic. But what makes Lift It! especially fun is that you need to get your head in the game—literally. Instead of using your hands to build what’s on the card, you use a crane strapped to your head to pick up, move, and stack the various building components within the allotted time. You can play by yourself, one on one, or team against team. Lift It! is challenging, frustrating (but in a fun way), and a delight to play. Takes about 30 minutes. For 1-8 players, ages 8+. http://usaopoly.com/

pictopia star warsPictopia Star Wars Edition (Wonder Forge)
Think you know your Star Wars trivia? Now’s the time to show us what you’ve got. As with most games, there are rules to follow, tokens to move, and goals to accomplish. And we have no doubt that plenty of families will play this games exactly as intended. But we’re betting that just as many will skip the official game and spend their time looking through the 200 trivia-packed cards. Each card has four pictures on one side and five questions on the other. For example, on one card you’ll find pictures of a Jedi Interceptor, an X-wing Starfighter, an ARC 170 Starfighter, and a Y-wing Starfighter. Here are the questions: Which one of these does the Gold Squadron fly in the Battle of Yavin? Which two take part in the Battle of Endor? Which three operate with fewer than three pilots? Which one is typically piloted by clone troopers? If you’re a true Star Wars fan (and who isn’t these days), you may not be able to survive without this game. But whether you’re a Padawan or a Jedi Master, you’ll love it. For 2-6 players, ages 7+. http://wonderforge.com/

wonder forge roaring riverRoaring River (Wonder Forge)
Based on the movie “The Good Dinosaur,” this game is a cooperative effort, meaning that the players either win or lose together. The object is to help Arlo, Spot, and their friends outrun the flooding river and get safely home. Players spin a spinner or play tokens and build a path from the waterfall to the mountain range. It’s a fun, easy game that’s perfect for 2-4 players ages 4 and up. http://wonderforge.com/

 

wonder forge snoopy flying aceSnoopy Flying Ace Game (Wonder Forge)
This one’s based on the new “Peanuts Movie,” but you don’t have to have seen the film to enjoy the game. You’ll need about three minutes to set the game up. The most complicated part is the Eiffel Tower and the spinning arm that balances atop it. Snoopy is on one side of the arm, his arch nemesis, the Red Baron, is on the other. One player spins the arm and while the Beagle and his foe battle it out, players flip over cards (each with a picture of one of the main Peanuts characters) and try to match one of theirs with one from another player—before the spinning stops. For 2-4 Peanuts fans (or soon-to-be fans) ages 4+. http://wonderforge.com/

usaopoly wonkyWonky (USAOpoly)
In this game, the object is to build towers out of colored blocks. Cards tell you which size and which color to add to the tower. That would be challenge enough with actual cubes, but the blocks here are a little out of whack (hence the name of the game), which ads an element of hilarity. A blast for two or more players, ages 8+.  http://usaopoly.com/

Parents@Play Holiday Gift Guide Number 4

Whether you’re someone who’s made an art of procrastination, or you’ve just been holding out for the final, final markdowns on all those post-Black Friday super sales, you’re all out of time. If you’re still at a loss for what to get the children in your life, you can’t go wrong with these.

 

hovertech target fxHoverTech Target FX (Blip Toys)
Despite what you see on TV and in the movies, hitting a moving target is incredibly difficult. So as you unbox your new Target FX, you’ll also need to unbox a lot of patience. Fortunately, the HoverTech is so much fun that you won’t even notice the time. The HoverTech moves up and down and has a floor sensor that keeps it from landing until you’ve shot it down. Comes with the drone, one charging/docking station, one blaster, and three darts. It’s also available in a two-blaster kit. Ages 8+. Under $35. http://bliptoys.com/

 

hulk smash carMarvel XPV Remote Control Hulk Smash Vehicle (Jakks Pacific)
One of the coolest remote control toys we’ve played with, this car features everyone’s favorite green rageaholic flipping, spinning, doing wheelies, and more on a HYDRA vehicle. He also yells out 10 phrases (including grunts and growls). Hulk’s arms are adjustable and swing, so he can smash everything in sight. They also help him right his car if it falls over so he quickly get back to smashing duty. Nothing else on the road stands a chance. One warning: this is a very loud toy, so if you’ve got sensitive ears, you may need to leave the playroom. All ages, with adult supervision. Under $60 at your favorite retailer.

 

nono falcon xsNano Falcon XS (Silverlit Toys)
The Nano Falcon XS bills itself as the world’s smallest remote-controlled helicopter, and it’s got the certificate from Guinness World Records to prove it. But that doesn’t matter if it’s not fun to play with and easy to operate. Fortunately, the Nano delivers on both counts. Like its larger cousins, the Nano flies up, down, right, left, forwards, and backwards. Two things to be aware of: Compared to other RC helicopters you may have flown, this one is a little pokey. But that’s not a bad thing if you or your children are new to drones. Second, because of its size, Nano doesn’t do well with turbulence, so use it indoors only, and keep it away from open windows, fans, and air-conditioning units. Ages 10+. About $40. http://www.Silverlit.com

 

glo wubbleWubbleX and Glo Wubble (Wubble Ball)
If you’ve ever played with a Wubble, you know how fun these giant ball/bubble/balloons are to smack, kick, and bounce around on. Now the original Wubble has two siblings: WubbleX and Glo Wubble.  Wubble X is essentially a mini-me to the original. The biggest difference is that you inflate your Wubble X with helium instead of air. You still punch and kick Wubble X, but now it also floats around the room as if by magic. The Glo Wubble is simply a glow-in-the-dark Wubble, which means that the fun doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down or the lights go off. Original and Glo Wubbles retail for $19.99 and include a pump. Wubble X retails for $7.99; helium cans are $7.99. All ages, with adult supervision. http://www.wubbleball.com/

 

Curiosity PackCuriosity Pack (Curiosity Pack)
Although the Curiosity Pack comes in a box, it’s definitely an out-of-the-box learning system. Each pack contains age-appropriate learning activities that help kids learn about letters, numbers, science, art, and more. The Packs also give parents some valuable insights into how children learn so they can take an active role in their children’s education. Ages 3-10. $35. http://www.curiositypack.com/

Parents@Play Holiday Gift Guide, Number 3

Still haven’t found the perfect gift for the little ones in your life? Check out some of these hot new toys before they get snapped up.

kurio smart tabletKurio Smart Tablet (KD Interactive)
Looking to help your youngster get ahead in school? The Kurio Smart Tablet might be just the ticket. It’s the first 2-in1 Windows device designed for kids. The 2-in-1 part means that your child can use Kurio as a computer or detach the keyboard and use it as a tablet. Comes with 32 GB of storage, Microsoft Office, a bunch of games and other useful software, and parental controls to keep your kids safe. Prices vary. Learn more at http://www.kurioworld.com/

happy dance snoopyHappy Dance Snoopy (Just Play)
With the new Peanuts movie still in theaters, Peanuts Happy Dance Snoopy is adorable and timely. Parents who grew up with Charlie Brown and the gang will fall in love again, and the newest generation will join them. Snoopy dances to the Peanuts theme song (aka “Linus and Lucy”) when you squeeze his paw. And because you won’t be able to resist, the loveable hound respond to kisses, (although he’s unpredictable—sometimes you’ll get a kiss, other times a laugh, howl, burp, or something else). Oh, come on—he’s a dog. Under $30 at Target, Amazon, and others. http://justplayproducts.com/

qixelsQixels (Moose Toys)
Boys have been largely left out of the bead-and-water craze of the past few years. But thanks to Qixels, that’s all in the past. Kids can either follow a predetermined pattern or use their imagination to create works of art using tiny cubes. Once all the pieces are in place, spray them with water and they fuse together into 8-bit looking creations reminiscent of Minecraft. Make monsters, ninjas, zombies, or anything your heart desires. Ages 6 and up (younger is okay, but because of the tiny pieces, adult supervision is required). Under $20 at Toys R Us and others. http://moosetoys.com/

cleverkeetLittle Live Pets CleverKeet (Moose Toys)
Kids are loving the tech pets craze right now, and CleverKeet is one of the cutest. This sweetie just flew into the Little Live Pets pet shop and would love to be adopted by your family this holiday season. Name your CleverKeet, and he or she will remember it. Just like a real bird, he likes to dance in front of the mirror and sing. He also knows all sorts of words and will answer your questions (often in silly ways). CleverKeet comes with one bird, a playground (he loves to swing!), one cart, an instruction booklet, and an adoption certificate. $59.99. http://moosetoys.com/

meccanoidMeccano Meccanoid G15 KS Personal Robot (SpinMaster)
Before you start unboxing Meccanoid, make sure you block out a big chunk of time. You and the kids will have so much fun putting together this 4-foot tall wisecracking robot that you won’t want to stop. He comes with voice recognition capabilities and more than 1,000 pre-programmed phrases, means he can respond to what you say. He’s also easy to program, thanks to his Meccabrain and an on-screen ragdoll avatar. You may want to send the kids to bed a little early so you can have him all to yourself. Under $400. http://www.spinmaster.com/

world village playset chinaWorld Village Playset—China (Whole Wide World Toys)
In an era when just about everything beeps and/or is made of plastic, the Whole World Playset is a joy from the moment you open the box. The 13 wooden puzzle pieces move smoothly across a soft, fabric playmat and take children on a trip to China, where they learn about culture and pick up a few bits of vocabulary along the way. There’s a 32-page story about China narrated by a brother-sister duo who are traveling through the country. There are also more than a dozen cards that encourage kids to make up their own stories. Ages 4+. $59.99 at http://wholewideworldtoys.com/

Parents@Play Holiday Gift Guide, Number 2

In case you hadn’t noticed (a nearly impossible feat), the end of the year, with all its associated shopping madness, is closing in. So, without further ado, here are a few more of our year-end faves.

newertech LED LampNuGreen LED Desk Lamp (NewerTech)
Since the sun goes down long before most kids get their homework done, they definitely need a good reading light. The NuGreen LED lamp is among the brightest (not to mention the sleekest and most stylish) we’ve seen. It uses 50 LEDs to produce light that’s similar to natural daylight—without generating any heat. The lamp’s flexible neck makes it easy to position the beam, and all it takes is a gentle finger touch to turn it on or off. Those LEDs draw only 3.6 watts and last up to 45,000 hours (22 times longer than traditional lightbulbs), which makes the NuGreen easy on the wallet. $49.00. http://www.newertech.com/

newertech Power2U OutletPower2U outlet (NewerTech)
Doesn’t it sometimes seem that you have more electronic devices and things to be charged than places to plug them in? Problem solved. Power2U has two traditional outlets and two USB ports, which should put an end to (or at least reduce) the number of fights over charging rights. Power2U may also help reduce your electric bill. Anything plugged into the wall—even if it’s not being used—draws a tiny bit of power (called “vampire energy draw”). Here, the USB ports are completely turned off until something is plugged in. It’s easy to install and complies with current building codes. $24.99. http://www.newertech.com/

 

oregon scientific Smart AnatomySmart Anatomy (Oregon Scientific)
A wonderful way for kids to learn about the human body. The main features of this kit (named Alex) are the 16 detachable body parts and the talking Smart Pen. Touch the pen to any body part and you’ll hear the names of organs and systems, how they function, sounds they make (heartbeats, etc.), weird facts, kid-friendly advice on health and nutrition, and more. Kids can also play games and conduct experiments. Great for home, school, or both. Comes with a 16-page booklet and large poster. Ages 5+. $79.99. www.oregonscientific.com

animal planet yeti playsetYeti Playset (Animal Planet)
Do the folks at Animal Planet know something we don’t? Their toys usually feature actual animals. This one, however, let’s you make up your own mind about whether one of the world’s most elusive creatures is myth or reality. Comes with a nicely articulated Yeti character, chunks of “ice” that Yeti throws, a human character (who doesn’t stand a chance against the big fella), ice cave, snowmobile, and some “fish,” which are either food for the human or Yeti bait. For ages 3+. Under $25. http://www.animalplanet.com/

zoombinisZoombinis Logical Journey (TERC, FableVision Studios and Learning Game Network)
This is, without a doubt, the most entertaining educational video game we’ve ever seen. Armin and his older kids spent hours with this game back in the 1990s and loved it. Sadly, when child number three arrived, the game was out of print and Armin’s his new computers weren’t backwards-compatible enough to run the old discs. Fortunately, those adorable little blue creatures, each with a distinct personality and features, are back—and looking almost exactly like their 20th century ancestors. The goal is simple: help the Zoombinis escape their evil captors and make their way home to Zoombiniville. To do that, you have to guide them through a series of increasingly difficult challenges that require logic, data analysis, deductive reasoning, pattern recognition, hypothesis testing, and more. It’s simply not possible to have more fun than playing with Zoombinis. Ages 6+. For Mac and PC ($9.99), Kindle Fire ($4.99), and as an iOS/Android app.

Parents@Play 2015 Holiday Gift Guide, Number 1

This week we bring you the first of three holiday gift guides. No sense waiting ‘til the last minute, right?

playmobil advent calendarAdvent Calendar (Playmobil)
What better way to count down the days ‘til Christmas than with this sweet Advent calendar. It comes with parent and child figures, pets, food, and enough surprises for every day from now ‘til the big day—plus a light-up tree (batteries not included). The toughest part will be resisting the temptation to put it all together in one day instead of spreading out the joy. Ages 4-10. Around $25 at retailers or http://www.playmobil.us/.

geeker speakerGeek & Co. Geeker Speaker Lab (Thames & Kosmos)
Open the box and within seconds, you and your kids are ready to learn about the science of sound. There are several different approaches. In the first, you turn just about any object you can think of into a speaker. Plug one end of the Speaker Geeker into your phone or music player (it fits standard headphone jacks) and put the other end, called a pod, on something else. Then turn on the sound and see how well a wood table sounds vs. a box of cereal vs. a tin can. The other experiment is to make invisible sound waves visible. To do that you attach the pod to the underside of a special tray (included) and add various materials—water, sand, yogurt, etc. Then, turn on your player and watch. If you use music, you’ll get a lot of pretty random action, but if you use a signal- or tone generator that produces a single sound at a single frequency, you’ll see some beautiful sound patterns. Ages 8+. Under $20 at many retailers or visit http://thamesandkosmos.com/

k'nex brontoBeasts Alive Bronto Building Set (K’NEX)
For kids and adults who love building, dinos, and robots (and who doesn’t?) this is the trifecta. The pieces go together easily and stay that way even under pretty rough playing conditions. This 213-piece set includes a motor (but not batteries) and instructions for how to build three different dinos. Depending on the age of the child and the amount of adult intervention, it’ll take 30-45 minutes to put together. Then flip the switch and stand back as your dino goes on a rampage.  Just be thankful he’s not a vegetarian. Ages 7+. Under $20 at Amazon or visit http://www.knex.com/

k'nex ferris wheelMighty Makers Fun on the Ferris Wheel Building Set (K’NEX)
Help Emily and her bear Cocoa build a Ferris wheel, ticket both, and snack stand. Along the way you’ll learn about mechanics, speed, engineering, and other STEM concepts. This set is definitely geared more towards girls, but there are instructions on the website for how to use the same 324 pieces to build a pirate ship ride and more. Under $25 at Walmart or visit http://www.knex.com/

skazoomsSkaZooms Battle ‘Boggan Action Pack (SkaZooms)
Meet SkaZooms, the latest (and coolest) collectible figures. These little skateboarders are adorable (in a so-ugly-that-they’re-cute kind of way) and safety conscious (they always wear helmets). The Action Pack includes one battle arena, two SkaZoom characters (with boards and helmets), and two ‘boggans (spinners that the SkaZooms characters sit on when they’re launched into the arena by yanking on a rip cord). The arena itself is outfitted with launch pads, jump ramps, and seating for eight SkaZooms spectators. When you’re ready to go, let ‘em rip and they’ll bounce, crash, smash, and fly. It’s wonderfully easy to set up, requires no batteries (yeah!), and is solidly made—we’ve had other ripcord-launched fighting toys that haven’t lasted a week. Ages 7+. Around $42 a many retailers, or http://www.skazooms.com/