We all know that over the summer, kids lose, on average, 30% of what they learned in the previous school year. Keeping their minds active and engaged while they’re on vacation will help them start the new school year ready to learn (instead of having to spend the first few months reviewing old material). Here are some great activities, one academic, the rest less so, that will keep your children’s minds sharp.
The Beautiful Book of Exquisite Corpses (book, edited by Gavin Edwards)
With all the emphasis on science, technology, engineering, math these days, people forget about the A (for Art) in STEAM, which we prefer over the more traditional STEM. This book is designed to jump start those creative, artistic juices and it delivers, bit time. Each page is divided into thirds. The top third has a partial drawing or a provocative phrase (for example, “He pushed the truck’s accelerator down as far as it would go, but the angry kittens kept gaining on him.”). You and a partner, then tear a few pages out of the book, fold them (along the dotted lines so you can’t see the drawing or the text, shuffle them so you don’t know which one you’re getting, and then draw whatever you like. When you’re done, fold the page again so neither of you can see what the other has done, swap pages, and draw again. The result will be a wonderful artistic chimera (the mythical beast that had the head of a lion, body of a goat, and tail of a serpent). The book features art from famous illustrators, cartoonists, tattoo artists, and more, as well as text from just-as-famous rock stars, actors, TV writers, and others. Ages 10+. $17 on www.amazon.com
It’s less than a week into summer, but people are already talking about how this could be one of the hottest summers ever. That means that even though most of us would much rather be outside playing, we’ll have to spend a bit more time inside. Here are a few games (and one non-game product) that will help you chill on those days when it’s too hot to go outside.
Build a Bot (Basic Fun)
Another STEM-type toy for the younger set. Follow the easy instructions to create a basic unicorn by snapping and clicking together the pieces. Then you customize and personalize your one-horned wonder with stickers. Once you’re done, just clap your hands (or make some other loud noise) to bring your unicorn to life, walking across the floor and making unicorn-y sounds. Batteries required but not included. Ages 5+ (although kids under 7 might need some adult help with assembly). Prices vary. http://www.basicfun.com
Summer’s here, and it’s time to head outside. And while you’re there, why not get wet? Really, really wet. Here are our current water-themed faves for the whole family.
Splash Out (Far Out Toys)
This Q&A game features a ball that holds a water balloon. Then, you set a timer on the ball and players take turns holding the ball while answering a question. As soon as you answer, you pass the ball to the next person who answers the same question. Answer quickly and you stay dry. Hesitate and the timer pops the balloon and you’re all washed up. Comes with waterproof question cards and balloons. Great fun for indoors or out, and, of course, who says you have to limit yourself to water? It all depends on how much of a mess you want to clean up. Ages 8+. Under $18. http://www.farouttoysinc.com/
Whether you’re searching for something to do as a family, or something that will keep the kids busy, it’s often hard to find activities or games that don’t have screens, need batteries, or have to be plugged in. Fortunately, there are still plenty of non-screen, non-electronic options out there.
Have a little car lover? (Or maybe a big one—after all, Father’s Day is just around the corner…)? Automoblox is an award-winning line of high-quality, collectible, miniature cars. The bodies are made of European beechwood and can be manipulated, mixed, and matched in a variety of ways to create different designs. Oh, and you’ll do all of that without tools. Mini models include the Grizzly truck, X10 Timber Pack SUV with trailer, and the very first Automoblox motorcycle. There are larger options as well, including the BR100 Hercules 16.5″ hauler (which can also be recreated into a dump truck). The Hauler comes with two back ends, a ramp, two mini vehicles, and has room to hold three more. For ages 4+. New minis range from $11.99 to $24.99. The Hauler is $59.99. Get yours on Amazon or http://www.automoblox.com
Besides camps, poison oak, blockbuster movies, vacations, and sunburn, summer is also known as a time when kids forget a little too much of what they spent the just-finished school year learning. But it doesn’t have to be that way. This is the first of several columns that will highlight some of the many ways you can help turn that dreaded summer brain drain into a brain gain. And there’s no better place to start than with history.
Little Guides to Great Lives (Laurence King)
One of the best ways to learn about history is to read about the lives of the people who lived it. And this new series of books for young readers is excellent. Each of these 64-page books is charmingly illustrated and filled with stories, scenes, and fascinating nuggets from the subject’s life. So if you want to know how Nelson Mandela inspired the world, why Amelia Earhart is an aviation hero, what makes Leonardo da Vinci a genius, why Frida Kahlo is an art icon, and what Marie Curie did to become a science superstar, look no further. Although they’re written for children, adults will love these books too—and they’re perfect to read aloud. For ages 7+. $11.99. http://laurenceking.com/
No matter the time of year, little hands (and maybe not-so-little hands) get into everything. Whether you’re in a restaurant, on a long car ride, or just walking through a supermarket, it’s usually a good idea to put something into those active hands to keep them occupied before they get too active (or maybe just get on your nerves).
Click Clack Ball (Manhattan Toy)
Got a really little one? This brightly colored, plastic ball with many handles to twist and turn is a great option. It’s also easy to connect to a baby stroller or seat so your kiddo won’t be able to toss it onto any dirty floors (as we all know they so love to do). As the name implies, the Click Clack makes sounds when baby turns the handles, and it rattles as it moves. It’s filled with tiny beads, which make lots of stimulating noise (but not so much that it will drive mom and dad crazy). An excellent choice for baby showers, too. Retail prices vary from $9.99 to $15.99 depending on where you buy, so get your Google on before you shop.
Looking for a way to add some excitement to your family’s game night? What better way than to combine it with some exciting movies? Here are four of our current movie-themed games. Lights, camera, action!
The Incredibles Save the Day Game (Wonder Forge)
After a 13-plus-year absence, the Incredibles are back (“Incredibles 2” hits theaters June 15), and they’re picking up right where they left off. But you don’t have to wait ‘til the movie comes out to spend some quality time with the Parr family. A crime wave has hit Metroville and Jack-Jack (the shape-shifting baby) is in trouble. Each player takes on the role of one of the Incredibles, complete with his or her powers. But the object here isn’t to defeat the other players. Instead, players work together (just like the Incredibles do in reel life) to thwart a bank robbery, save a cat from a tree, rescue someone from a burning building, or heroically stop some other dastardly evildoer. Aside from the cooperative nature of the game, we really liked the fact that, thanks to random dice rolls and game tiles, you’ll never play the same game twice. For 1-4 players ages 6+. Under $20. http://www.wonderforge.com/
It’s hard to believe, but school will be out in about a month. And as the days get longer, we’ll be spending more time outdoors. But who says we have to do without our creature comforts? Check out some of the gear that makes being outside a little, less, well, outside.
PaMu TWS Earbuds (PaMu)
Do you love a good run? Maybe a hike, kayak, or even just some time in the gym? A lot of us like to listen to our favorite tunes (or podcast or audio book or some other kind of audio) while working out. But finding good earphones that can deal with sweat isn’t always easy. The new PaMu TWS wireless earphones are easy to wear, truly have no wires (until you have to charge them, of course), and are sweat-proof and water resistant. They also incorporate several must-have features, including hi-fi sound, auto-connects, touch control, auto pairing that lets you make calls and listen to music while your phone is in your pocket (or even further away), and an in-ear mic. Plus, they come with a portable charging pod that neatly fits your buds and doubles as a travel case, and more. And for ear buds, they’re reasonably comfortable. If you’re a Dr. Who fan, they may remind you of Cybermen. Put in your giant ear buds and then you become a robot working for your new alien overlords. Ok, maybe not. They’re not available in stores yet, but you can snag a pair on Indiegogo before they hit the shelves. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/pamu-waterproof-wireless-earbuds-never-fall-out#/
What is it about kids and animals? Doesn’t matter whether they’re made of flesh and blood or artificial materials, kids love ‘em—and so do we. Here are some of our current favorites.
Q*bert Buildable Figure (Arcade Classics/The Bridge Direct)
If you’ve got young kids, there’s a good chance that Q*bert, who was born in 1982, is older than you. But he (or is it she?) has held up pretty well. The classic arcade game has been rebooted several times, most recently in the film, “Pixels.” Now, this loveable, armless, orange creature with the big nose is available as a buildable figure, using 117 LEGO-type pieces. And if you need more early video game throwbacks, you can get Centipede and Frogger figures as well. These kits are for kids 10+, but we think younger ones can handle it too. Prices vary. http://www.basicfun.com
A few weeks ago, we featured some cool clothes for women. Since a number of readers pointed out that men wear clothes too, we figured that it’s only fair to highlight some men’s wear as well. Here, then, are some stylish, casual for the males in your life.
Long Sleeve Hood (prAna)
To give you a sense of how great Prana clothes are, here are two actual quotes from a teenage girl who was asked to take pictures of her dad, who was trying on their jeans and hoodie. 1) “Wow. I mean, you look, ah, almost, um, pretty decent.” If you don’t have a teenage girl around the house, you have no idea what an incredible compliment that is. 2) “Hey, can I have that shirt?” The Long Sleeve Hoodie is also from organic cotton and recycled polyester and is incredibly comfortable and lightweight. But the unique design is what will attract the most attention. It comes in black, charcoal, starling (a very light green), and denim (blue). $49. https://www.prana.com