Author Archives: Parents@Play Team

It’s All Connected

Whether you’re putting together a puzzle, building a tower, looking for a new job, or just hanging out with your kids, life is all about connections. This week, we reviewed four unique ways you and your family can use physical connections to build stronger emotional ones.

 

Brackitz Driver Set (Brackitz)

brackitzAs much as we love traditional block-based building systems, we’re delighted at the ongoing trend toward more open-ended systems with unique pieces and ways of connecting them. Brackitz is one of the best, and they keep getting better. The new Driver Set comes with 43 pieces and directions for building 10 driving machines, including a teeter-totter, a gyro copter, a windmill, and a dragster. But who says you have to follow directions, when you can follow your imagination instead? Brackitz kits are great for individual or collaborative play and for building spatial- and engineering skills. They combine with other Brackitz kits as well as with other systems, such as Keva planks and CitiBlocs. For ages 3+. Under $25 at amazon.com, other retailers, and https://brackitz.com

 

Magnaflex (WowWee)

magnaflex wowweeA new—and completely unique—system from the makers of MiP, ChiP, Coji, and other amazing robotic toys. The majority of Magnaflex pieces are shaped like bay leaves, but don’t be fooled: They snap, bend, zip, stack, and stick together (thanks to the encapsulated kid-safe magnets) to create animals, bugs, vehicles, wearable jewelry, and just about anything else your imagination can come up with. Magnaflex kits come in a variety of themes and sizes, but the pieces (there are also circular connectors) are so colorful and engaging that we’re betting that you and the kids will skip the instructions and start building whatever pops into your head as soon as you open the box. And when you’re done—which will be a while—the magnets make après-play clean up a breeze. For ages 3+. Prices depend on the size of the kit. Available at toysrus.com and http://wowwee.com

 

Twangled (MindWare)

twangled thames & kosmosTwangled is a little reminiscent of Twister. Players stand in a circle, but instead of holding hands, they’re connected to their neighbor by holding onto colorful, very stretchy elastic bands. Now the fun begins. Players take turns kicking (because their hands are already occupied) a spinner that instructs them to step over or under a band of a particular color. As you can imagine, the giggling starts within seconds and continues until you’ve gotten yourselves hopelessly tangled up. At this point, the object of the game shifts, and players have to talk each other through how to get themselves back to their untangled starting positions—without letting go of the bands, of course. It’s great for building visualization and problem-solving skills and is a wonderful team-building exercise, since everyone has to work together to get unstuck. It’s for 4-8 players ages 6+. Under $25 at http://www.mindware.orientaltrading.com

 

Geek & Co. Chewing Gum Lab (Thames & Kosmos)

chewing gum labChewing gum is one of the best ways to connect two objects (after duct tape and super glue). And this chemistry-based kit gives you and your kids a great opportunity to connect with each other (literally and/or figuratively) while making your own tasty gum and learning about the science of polymers. The kit comes with a 16-page manual containing five experiments, along with all the necessary gum-related ingredients as well as wrappers so you can give unused homemade treats to your friends and family. For ages 8+. Under $20 at your favorite retailer. http://www.thamesandkosmos.com

It’s a Small World

To completely misquote Kermit the Frog, it’s not easy being little. And that explains why miniature versions of just about everything in our world are so popular with those miniature people who live in our home. Here are some really fun small objects that your kids will love—and so will too.

Micro Boats (Zuru)

micro boatsAs you might guess from the name, Micro Boats are, indeed, small boats. But they’ll provide life-size fun for you and your kids. They’re water activated, self-steering, and move at a scale-speed of 200 MPH, which results in some truly epic crashes. Adjusting the rudders lets you perform donuts and other stunts. Micro Boats come in individual packs or as part of larger sets. The Water Slide, for example, comes with a suction cup so you can stick the slide on the wall next to your bathtub and drop your boat from five feet above the water. It also connects with the Shark Attack Challenge, a figure-8 water course that features a boat-swallowing shark and a crane. Ages 3+. www.zurumicroboats.com

Tonka Tinys Blast & Dash Quarry Playset (Funrise)

tonka tinysIf your little one loves little vehicles, you can’t do better than Tonka. This playset combines beautiful—yet very realistic—mini trucks with a working “detonator” that topples a precarious tower. It come with one Tonka Tinys vehicle, but there are lots of other options, including backhoes, emergency vehicles, dump trucks, recycling trucks, garbage trucks, firetrucks, and more (all sold separately). Blast & Dash connects to the Car Crush Escape playset (also sold separately) for even more fun and destruction. It’s for ages 5+, and retails for around $22. www.tonka.com

Shopkins Kinstructions (Moose)

shopkins kinstructionsIf you’ve never heard of Shopkins, don’t worry: your little one will be glad to fill you in on these trendy collectibles. We had a chance to play with two Shopkins Kinstructions Mini Packs: Weekend Wardrobe (62 pieces) and Party Fun (47 pieces). Both can be combined with blocks from most major brands to make even bigger tiny worlds (yes, in some cases bigger is better, even when it’s tiny), and each comes with two Shopkins figures that you and your kids can build together. They’re for ages 3+ and retail for under $15. www.shopkinsworld.com

Arcade Classics (Basic Fun)

arcade classicsDo you ever miss going to arcades and playing those great Atari games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong? You may have even been tempted to buy one of those games to set up in your living room. That probably didn’t happen, right? Well, now’s your chance to rekindle all those great arcade memories—and share them with your children—without taking up an inch of floor space. Arcade Classics brings you some of your favorite games, complete with a joystick and all those funky electronic beeps and boinks you loved. And the gameplay is just like you remember, but smaller. With Centipede, you still destroy the centipede as it moves through the mushrooms, being careful to avoid the deadly flea, the ferocious spider, and the poisonous scorpion. And with Q-bert, you still hop on the cubes, keeping an eye out for Slick, riding the flying disc back to the top, and trying to catch the magic green ball to freeze the bad guys. Other titles include Pac-Man and Space Invaders. Arcade Classics are for ages 8+ and retail for about $15. www.thebridgedirect.com

Video Games to Play when You’re Home Alone, Or Not

Nicer weather is on the way in some parts of the country, but what to do if you find yourself snowed- or rained in? Check out these new video games to play with the kids—and the devices to play them on.

Skylanders Imaginators

skylanders imaginatorThis is the newest in the proud Skylanders line, which uses real-life toy figures that enter the on-screen game through a “portal.” As always, the story follows the Skylanders as they try to defeat the evil Kaos in his latest plan to destroy Skyland. Kaos has found a new power called “Mind Magic,” and is creating an army of Doomlanders. The leader of the good guys is Eon, who calls upon Portal Masters (that’s you!) to battle Kaos and his army. To help, there are Senseis who give players new powers that you can use to build and equip your Imaginators. If you’ve got the new Nintendo Switch (more on that below), you’ll be able to save your Skylanders figures’ stats and abilities to the system so you can play Skylanders on the go, without having to schlep the figures or the portal.

One of the most amazing features we’ve seen in a while is the new Skylanders Creator app, which you download from the iOS or Android store, and use to create a unique Imaginator (or you can transfer one from the Skylanders Imaginators console game to the app). The whole process takes only a few minutes. Best of all, your creation will be mailed to you! www.skylanders.com/video-games/skylanders-imaginators

 

Nintendo Switch

nintendo switch-zSpeaking of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo has finally given us what we have been frothing at the mouth for: a new system! The Switch can be used at home like a regular console or—and this is really neat—picked up and taken with you anywhere you go. Switching between the two modes is super easy, even if you’re in the middle of a game. The first thing you’ll notice when opening up the Switch is there’s not much in the box: a tablet, a stand, two controllers, a few various controller accessories, and some cables. The tablet portion of the Switch is quite a powerhouse, with a crisp, gorgeous display. The controllers are solidly built and very responsive and great for two-player games. They may feel a bit small in Dad’s monster-size hands, but they’re definitely still playable for long periods of time (especially when used with the joy con grip, which turns the two small controllers into one bigger one for a more classic gaming feel). You can play it from the couch with your TV as the monitor, in the car, or anywhere else. Available in stores or online for $299.99. www.nintendo.com/switch/

Poochy and Yoshi’s Woolly World

yoshis wolly worldYarn Yoshi is back and this time he’s brought his woolly buddy, Poochy. Kamek the magikoopa has changed everyone into wool, and Yoshi and Poochy are here to save the day. This game is a retelling of Yoshi Woolly World on the Wii U, and includes over 55 levels of fun along with some new Poochy levels. Every level has a craft feel where enemies are yarn and each texture and item is also craft-based. You can also enter Mellow Mode, where Yoshi uses his signature wings to float about, and Poochy’s three little puppies help find secrets and hidden passages. This game is great for players of all levels. Experienced players will try to collect all available items, while beginners will be happy to beat each level. It’s only for the Nintendo 3DS and is available for download at retail locations or from the eShop. A special amiibo bundle is sold separately. www.yoshiswoollyworld.nintendo.com/3ds

2017 Toy Fair Trends—But Wait, There’s More!

Last week, we told you about toy-and-game trends we’ll be following (and sharing with you, of course) in 2017. That was just the beginning. Here are a few more we didn’t have room for.

A Little Spit and Polish

Some of your favorite toys from last year are back again, but have been updated, upgraded, and given new bells and whistles. As we all know, sometimes the first iteration doesn’t always turn out exactly right. Some of these second tries aren’t worth the trouble, but others are fantastic.

What’s Old Is New Again

Retro is, well, kind of nostalgic. A lot of toys you played with as a kid are back and look just like you (or your parents or grandparents) remember. The big difference is that the new versions tend to be safer than the old. Hey, it’s the law.

It’s All About You

You know the terms: “The ‘me’ generation,” or “selfie culture.” Whatever you call it, kids want to express themselves, and there’s nothing anyone can—or should—do to stop them. So you’ll be seeing a lot of toys, apps, and even electronics that are customizable and/or personalizable. And in most cases, it goes way beyond just adding a name or initials. We’re talking about changing features, colors, and even function.

Color Me Adult

Adults everywhere are getting back in touch with their inner child and doing more art, which is great. There are many art products (including coloring books) intended only for adults. And there’s a whole new trend in “inter-coloring” (that may not be a word, but it’s definitely a thing): large books or sheets designed for parents and kids or multiple kids to work on together. Get out those glitter markers.

Coding

Coding is everywhere—more toys and apps that we could count. There are pre-coding toys and games for kids as young as 12 months, coding “light” options for older kids (and their parents), and incredibly advanced, in-depth coding for those tech-savvy future billionaires. Your kids are already better at this than you are, so you’d better get in on this before they leave you completely in the dust.

Blind Packs

Blind packs, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, are like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get. From LEGOs (in a million varieties) to TsumTsum, CareBears, YoKai Watch disks, and everything in between, most brands have a blind pack for you. Kids love ‘em, but they can be a little frustrating for the people with the credit cards since you may end up with doubles and triples in your pursuit of an elusive whatchamacallit. Fortunately, they’re usually pretty inexpensive.

Keychains and Backpack Hangers

These continue to be huge. If you can see your child’s backpack underneath all the fluffy animals and other things, get out of the way now—the deluge is coming.

Escape the Room

Escape the room toys and games have exploded. Now there are all sorts of games that require players to beat the clock and get out of sticky situations. The excellent Escape the Room series of games continues to grow, and is now joined on the market by card games in the Clue tradition and some fun ones that involve handcuffs (play ones) and timers. Great fun for the whole family.

Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Magic

We saw a lot of magic kits in 2016, and there are even more this year. You’ll find simple kits for youngsters, and plenty of instructional DVDs and books, supplies, and equipment for anyone who’s willing to put in the time to learn.

2017 Toy Fair Trends

Every year at about this time, every toy, game, collectible, and indoor- or outdoor plaything goes on display at New York Toy Fair. And, as usual, your Parents@Play team fearlessly braved the frigid weather (although, this year it was practically balmy) to bring you a glimpse into this year’s up-and-coming trends.

Play with Your Food

play with foodFrom dolls to teddy bears that look like cupcakes to real food decorating kits to jewelry, it’s all about food. Capitalizing on the success of toys like Shopkins, and TV shows like “MasterChef Junior” and “Man vs. Child,” kids are now allowed—and even encouraged—to play with their food. You can make your own foodie toys and designs to wear, or just snuggle up at night with your favorite muffin. Some are scented, others not so much.

DIY Crafts

DIY blanketsEverybody wants to be a Pinterest star, and the kids are getting in on it too, with a bevvy of DIY kits that help them learn to make bath bombs, weave on looms, sew, make jewelry, and more. These are not the art projects that we had as kids, the ones mom would wear just because she loved you or would display just because you made it. These look like they leapt straight from Martha Stewart’s brain. But they’re easy enough for kids to do. Trust us: we tried a few, and if we can handle it, any nine-year old can.

A Tale of Tails

Tail - with donutEverything gets a tail: dolls, food, your sleeping bag, your tablet. And if it already has a tail (like, say, a cat) it’ll get a different one (usually a mermaid or shark tail). What cat wouldn’t love an ocean swim, right? Get yourself and the kiddos one—hey, who says people can’t have tails too?

Under the Sea

mermaids everywhereApparently life on land has gotten too complicated, so we’re taking it all under water. Mermaids and sea creatures big and small are everywhere and in every category of toy or plaything.

Narwhals

narwhalWhat happens when you combine our recent fixation on the ocean (see above) with our decades-old fixation on unicorns? Narwhals, of course. In case you don’t know, narwhals are pale-colored porpoises that swim in Arctic waters. The coolest thing about them, besides the water they swim in, is the ivory tusk (actually an overgrown tooth). Alas, what makes it awesome also makes it hunted. Pale shades aside, you’ll be seeing narwhals in a rainbow of colors and toy options.

VR Everything

VR everythingNearly every toy brand, big and small, has a VR (virtual reality) option. Typically, the app or game is free when you by the headset. Experience dinosaurs, race cars, underwater swimming (perhaps with a narwhal or a mermaid), and more. Some drones (see below) come with a VR headset so you can see what your drone is doing in real time, as if you were in the cockpit. Cool.

Diversity

diversity in dollsDiversity is in, no question. Today’s dolls and characters—even those made by major brands—now have different skin tones, facial features, hair textures, and even disabilities. Some (very few) also have dolls of different weights and chest sizes.

When You Gotta Go…

toiletsEveryone and everything has to go—even Minions. From the largest, most mass-produced brands to the smallest and newest to the market, potty humor is everywhere. Again. There’s even a game where the loser is sprayed with (pretend) toilet water. Just be sure to wash your hands afterward.

Drones

dronesThe quantity and quality of drones this year is astounding, and most now feature an on-board camera that streams video straight to your smartphone. Some are so advanced that we wonder how long your local news helicopter will be necessary. From indestructible drones young pilots can’t possibly break to sleek models that teens and adults will love racing, there’s a drone for everyone and at every price point.

Animals, Animals Everywhere

We’re gearing up for Toy Fair, where we’ll be spending four days up to our ears in toys and games. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll fill you in on what’s new and exciting for 2017. But one thing we can guarantee right now: regardless of whatever else is trending, animals will never go out of style. Here are some of our current faves.

FlipaZoo and Little FlipZees (Jay@Play)

flipazoo and flipzeeFlipaZoos are adorable plush pillows that are perfect for snuggle time and bed time. Each FlipaZoo is actually two animals in one. Just lift up the animal’s tail, pull it over its head (sounds painful, but no animals will be harmed), and you’ve got a completely new pet (don’t let your kids try this with your real pets). There’s a cat that turns into a mouse, a dragon that turns into a unicorn, a husky that turns into a polar bear, and several others. Jay@Play also makes mini versions called Little FlipZees. Big or little, they’re great for all ages. $19 for FlipaZoos; about $8.50 for FlipZees at your favorite retailer. http://www.flipazoo.com

Bright Bugz Evolution (Bright Bugz)

Bright BugzLike it or not, bugs are animals—and you’ll like these ones. Bright Bugz are small lights that turn on when you squeeze them and off when you release the pressure. That allows you to create the illusion of throwing the bug from hand to hand, putting in one ear and taking it out the other, and more. The app ads even more illusions, like throwing your bright bug into your phone. Bright Bugz are best used in the dark and you’ll need to spend some time practicing to get the timing down. But once you do, the effect will (as the company says) “glow your mind.” For ages 8+. Under $20 at retailers everywhere. http://brightbugz.com

Lion Guard Leap N Roar Kion (Just Play)

Lion Guard KionIn the hit Disney Junior series, Kion protects the Pride Lands. And he can do the very same for you. This extremely soft plush is motion activated: Push down on his hind end and he’ll leap. Wave your hand in front of his nose and he’ll shake his head, roar, and unleash some of his familiar phrases, which your kids will repeat over and over and over as they run around the house roaring. Batteries are included. Fortunately, Kion comes with an off switch. Unfortunately, kids don’t. For ages 3-6. Under $22 at amazon.com and other retailers.

Kitty Surprise: Siena and Her Kittens (Just Play)

Siena and KittensSiena is pregnant. How many kittens will she have—3, 4, 5?—and will they be boys or girls? Just like with a real cat, you have to wait to find out. Just so you know, one in four packages has four or five kittens, the rest have three. When Siena does finally give birth (which you’ll help by taking the kittens out of her pouch), you’ll find a litter of adorable, plush kittens with plastic heads, at least one of which meows. For ages 2+. Under $25 at major retailers.

Twinkle the Magical Unicorn (Vtech)

Twinkle the Magic UnicornTwinkle is part of Vtech’s Go! Go! Smart Friends world. She moves her head, walks, talks, and flaps her wings, and all she asks in return is a nibble of her golden magic carrot. If you’re especially nice, her horn will light up and change colors. This playset comes with Prisma the magic fairy and the golden carrot, and interacts with other Smart Friends characters (which are sold separately). Limited-life batteries included. Ages 18 months to 5 years. Under $20 at amazon.com and elsewhere.

Big Digital for Little Digits

Like it or not, we live in a world that is more and more dependent on technology. And if we expect our children to thrive in an increasingly complex and competitive world, they need to be technologically competent. Some toys and games include tech features simply because they can. Others, such as the ones we’re reviewing this week, integrate technology in a way that actually encourages learning.

DigiArt Creative Easel (VTech)

vtech digi art easelTransformers are everywhere… This highly interactive art center transforms from a desk to an easel to a chalkboard and back again in a way that really encourages kids’ creativity. For those who need a little help, the light-up dry-erase board and magic pen make it easy for kids to trace more than 150 numbers, letters, basic shapes, and simple objects. And at 40” high, it may be taller than your child. The easel is also wired for sound and comes with 100 vocabulary words and more than a dozen songs and tunes. Chalk included, but batteries aren’t. It’s for ages 3+. Retails for under $54. https://www.vtechkids.com/

Touch & Learn Activity Desk (VTech)

vtech touch & learnAnother transformer, this one flipping between an activity desk, chalkboard, and art station (with dry-erase board). It comes with engaging “activity cards” that introduce numbers, letters, colors, songs, and themed vocabulary words (such as fruits and body parts). Additional curriculum packs are sold separately. The desk has plenty of space for storing supplies and comes with a pretend phone, a music player, and a stool (but no batteries). For you, there’s an auto shutoff feature and a special button that allows you to check on your child’s progress. It’s for ages 2+ and retails for under $45.

Care for Me Learning Carrier (VTech)

vtech care for meYour little one will learn about colors, shapes, and even how to care for a pet. It comes with an adorable plush puppy (whew—no litter box to change), supplies (bowl, ball, comb, and bottle), and an interactive carrier that makes it easy for your toddler to take his or her pet everywhere. There are also human-only features, such as sliding beads that introduce letters and play music, and plenty of buttons that help your two-legged pet learn opposites, colors, shapes, and more. Batteries required but not included. For ages 9-36 months. Under $25.

Pull & Learn Alligator (VTech)

vtech aligatorYour child will want to drag this adorable, wisecracking alligator everywhere. Each of the 26 letter buttons on the gator’s back introduces a letter, the sounds it makes, words that start with it, and more. Flip a switch and you’ll get some positively silly sentences that are sure to lead to laughs. Flip another and you’ll get fun facts about all sorts of things. The gator himself chomps and shakes his head when you pull him, and his tail flashes when he “talks.” Comes with 125 songs, melodies, phrases, learning-reinforcing quiz questions, and more. And for you, there’s a volume control and auto shutoff. Batteries not included. For ages 18 months to 4 years. Under $17.

Zoo Jamz Piano (Vtech)

vtech zoo jamz pianoAlthough this instrument looks like a keyboard, it’s actually more of a synthesizer, allowing your child to produce the sounds of a piano, violin, saxophone, or violin. The keys on the keyboard light up so your child can learn familiar songs (it’s pre-loaded with more than 20), and the sound-amplifying microphone lets your little one sing along. There’s a whammy bar and scratch disc (for those funky rap-ish sounds). Batteries not included. For ages 18 months to 4 years. Under $25.

Sometimes You Don’t Need Batteries. Other Times, You Definitely Do.

Here’s some of the latest in family tech.

VR Real Feel Racing

VR racing headsetNow you can get the full virtual-reality experience of car racing without having to leave the comfort of your living room. The app itself is a lot of fun for both kids and adults who like racing games. But what’s especially cool about Real Feel Racing is that in addition to the very-comfortable headset, you also get a steering wheel. Most other VR racing setups have you tilt your head to steer. That’s fun, but you don’t have any control over acceleration or braking. With Real Feel, you control both with the steering wheel. Plus, the Max Force Feedback lets you feel the vibrations when you crash or bump into other cars. Requires 3 AAA batteries (not included). Available for about $30 on www.amazon.com

G3s GamePad (GameSir)

gamesir gamepadThis is a multi-platform, portable game controller that’s compatible with Android, iOS, Windows, and Playstation 3. It runs on rechargeable batteries and has an impressive 18 hours of game time per charge—plus an automatic sleep mode and a power saver, to extend that battery life even further. It features double-shock vibration, which lets you feel every hit and explosion, so you can really get into your games. The G3s is great for travel and connects to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. But if you want to use it with a PS3, you’ll need a wired connection. Great for gamers of any age. About $30 o www.amazon.com

Universal Multi-Charging Station (DOK)

DOK multi chargingIf you and your family are always running out of outlets or places to plug in your stuff (and who isn’t, these days?), this handy piece of equipment comes with everything you need to charge five devices at once: smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, MP3 players, or pretty much anything that uses a USB cable for charging. And to reduce your downtime, you can answer calls hands-free and listen to music on the six-watt Bluetooth speaker while you’re charging. It’s pretty compact, so it’ll be easy to find a place to put it, and you’ll spare yourself the eyesore (and tripping hazard) of a million cords and wires running all over the place. About $79.99 at www.amazon.com or https://www.easy-doks.com

Sprocket Photo Printer (HP)

hp sprocket photo printerThis pocket-sized printer expands the meaning of the phrase “print anywhere.” You can actually print directly from your smart phone or social media website. You can even print on sticky paper, so you can create sticker photos. Just open the top, load the paper of your choice, and you’re good to go. It’s lightweight and portable, which makes it an easy take-along for baby showers, birthday parties, and just about any other event. Need more features? Well, you can also edit, use filters, crop, or add emojis to your photos with just a few clicks. You can print about 30 photos on a charge and it takes about an hour to recharge. Retails for about $130 at major retailers or http://store.hp.com


NuTouch Gloves (NewerTech)

nutech glovesSince it’s still winter and using your smart devices in the cold can be somewhat less than comfortable, these gloves are quite handy, because you don’t have to take them off to do your swiping and clicking (although you will need to take them off if you need a fingerprint to sign into your device). NuTouch gloves are thin and easy to keep in your purse or coat pocket. They come in three sizes and retail for $20 at www.newertech.com

Build it up and Knock it Down

Building things—whether it’s a 3D puzzle, a metal replica of a pirate ship, a mini model of the Millennium Falcon, or a tower out of plain wooden blocks—is one of the best ways to spend time with your children. But half of the fun of building something is knocking it down. Here are some of our new favorites to build and smash (plus a few others).

Build or Boom (Proto Toys)

build or boomLike a lot of games these days, this one starts with a card. In this case, it’s a two-sided one that has a picture of a structure that both players race to build. What makes Build or Boom so much fun, though, is that you do your building on special platforms that are connected to a simple pump that looks like a pile of dynamite. Hit the dynamite and the tower falls. As you can guess, your opponent can blow up your tower, and vice versa. The game is a blast and comes with 30 cards divided into three levels of difficulty. But for younger children, it has the added advantage of being a great way to learn about shapes, patterns, and following directions. For two players, ages 4 and up. $29.95.

Kaboom (Blue Orange)

kaboom blue orangeLike Build or Boom, Kaboom starts with cards and involves building, blocks, and smashing. But the approach is very different. In this enervating (in a good way) game, one player tries to build as many towers as possible (using cards as models) within 30 seconds. That would be plenty of fun by itself, but while the builder is frantically building, the rest of the players are gleefully trying to knock over those towers using ammunition-launching catapults. If any towers remain standing after time expires, the builder keeps the associated card. In the next round, there’s a new builder. Whoever has the most cards wins—unless someone is able to build the mega tower, which is an automatic winner. For 2-5 players, ages 6+. About $16.

Brix (Blue Orange)

brix blue orangeThink tic-tac-toe, but add a dollop of color, a hint of sneakiness, and a few drops of inadvertent self-sabotage. You and your opponent are combining to build a wall of Xs and Os. The first player to line up 4 of their symbol (or 4 of their color, or both, depending on how complicated you want to make it), wins. The magic of Brix is the blocks themselves. Each Orange X is attached to a Blue O, and vice versa. That means that when you place your piece in that oh-so-brilliant location, you’re also putting your opponent’s piece right next to it. The rules and game play are easy, but the strategy is challenging. For two players, ages 7+. Under $20.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RC Skateboarding Mikey

TMNT skateboarding MikeyIn keeping with our theme of smashing and rebuilding, the best part about Skateboarding Mikey is making him wipeout—and then watching him get up all by himself so you can do the whole thing over and over again. Ages 4+. About $50 at Amazon and other retailers.

Y Flyer Stepper Scooter (Yvolution)

yfllyer stepper yvolutionWith this scooter’s sleek design and cool-looking foot pedals, your child is definitely going to turn some heads—and work up a sweat at the same time. If he or she wipes out, there’s no self-righting mechanism, which is why riders should always wear a helmet and other safety gear, and an adult should always be there to supervise. But it’s a ton of fun to ride. And with its 220 lb. weight limit, you can take it for a spin after the kids go to bed. Ages 7+. $149.99.

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