Looking for something fun to stimulate the mind of a creative child? These are a lot of fun, and we know that your little one will get a lot of play out of them.
Spirals & Sounds (Vtech)
If you remember Spirograph from when you were a kid, you’ll start doing your happy dance when you unbox this new art kit from VTech. Comes with four animal-shaped stencils and five gears that will let your little one create a nearly unlimited number of spiral shapes and designs. And in case being absorbed in an art project isn’t enough, the Sounds part of Spirals & Sounds includes 20 melodies, encouraging messages, and a variety of rhymes and chatty banter. Uses standard letter-size paper. Under $10. Ages 3+. https://www.vtechkids.com
Despite all the lists and the carefully put together plans, not everyone manages to get all their Holiday shopping done before the actual Holiday. Not to worry. Here are a few better-late-than-never games that are sure to amuse and entertain—including a few designed to be amusing and entertaining after the kiddies have gone to bed…
Not Parent Approved (Not Parent Approved, LLC)
Inspired by Cards Against Humanity, this one is closer to being for the whole family (but with plenty of double-entendre possibilities to titillate more mature players). It’s all about filling in the blanks in questions like, “I dare you to tell your dad about___” or “Grandma believes that ____ is the source of all goodness.” Comes with 455 cards. If that’s not enough, expansion packs are also available. Under $25. 4-10 players, ages 8+. https://notparentapproved.com
Holiday traditions are easy to create–just start doing something new. But creating a holiday tradition with a new character is hard. Elf on the Shelf did it remarkably well a few years ago. And the folks behind Maccabee on the Mantle and Mensch on a Bench have made the Festival of Lights a little brighter. This year, there are a few new characters in town that we think you should meet.
Reindeer in Here (Reindeer in Here)
Hollywood TV producer Adam Reed wasn’t a big fan of Elf on the Shelf, so he decided to create a character that would better resonate with his family. The result is a cheerful reindeer who, unlike elves, who can’t be touched, was made to go everywhere with your child. The reindeer, one of whose antlers is smaller than the other (in the spirit of Nemo’s “lucky fin”), also shares the much-needed message that “different is normal.” This book-and-plush combo retails for about $32. https://reindeerinhere.com/
Building, whether it’s with blocks, bricks, paper, metal, pipecleaners, or anything else, is one of the very best ways for parents and children to spend time together. Here are some new products that will help you keep busy and close during those long, winter evenings.
Tonka Mighty Builders 80-piece Set (Amloid)
Young engineers can take their building on the road with this cute set, that includes more than 60 blocks in a variety of shapes and colors, a block-fit figure, an easy-to-assemble-and-take-back-apart truck, and a bunch of accessories (like construction signs). And when playtime is over you’ll be able to put all those blocks back into the durable (and adorable) truck-shapedcarrying bag. Available at your favorite brick-and-mortar or online retailer. For ages 1+. Prices vary. https://amloid.com
Construction Building Blocks 115-piece Tube (Crayola)
Another engaging building set for the youngest builders. This giant crayon-shaped tube is probably taller than your child and is filledwith large, easy-to-manipulate, colorful (we’d expect nothing less from Crayola) blocks. It’s a great way to learn about shapes, colors, and perseverance. The set we reviewed had 115 pieces, but smaller sets are available as well. Available at your favorite toy seller. For ages 1+. About $20. https://www.crayola.com
Bendy and the Ink Machine Buildable Scene Set (Basic Fun!)
Never hear of Bendy? It’s not too late to find out. This 265-piece set is based on the popular video game, Bendy and the Ink Machine. Inaddition to all the pieces you need to build out the ink machine room, it includes complete instructions and three mini-figures: Boris the Wolf, Ink Bendy, and Bendy himself. Other figures (including Alice Angel, Sammy, and Searcher) are sold separately. The bricks themselves are compatible with most major brands, so you can build even bigger and more elaborate scenes. Ages 8+. About $25. http://www.basicfun.com
Georello Tech Set #6137 (Quercetti)
This is the first kit we’ve reviewed from this Italian toy company and we’re very impressed. To start with, it’s colorful and extremely durable (the company says it’s indestructible, but we know a lot of kids who’d take that as a challenge). But the best part is putting all the pieces together,which will, in the most delightful way, teach kids about gears, motion, chains,and movement. Once it’s assembled, and spinning, it’s absolutely mesmerizing. Includes 165 pieces and complete instructions. For ages 5+. Under $40. https://www.quercettistore.com
The Great Treehouse Engineering Adventure (Thames & Kosmos)
Pepper Mint is a skilled engineer who wants to take you andyour child on a science expedition to the Bermuda Triangle, where things don’t always behave as you think they should, and the ship’s systems fail. As a result, you and Pepper have to create your own. To survive, you’ll need to create hydraulic machines and a variety of other cool projects that teach basic concepts of physics, engineering, and electricity. The full-color instruction manual uses storytelling to make the STEM education even more fun. Also comes with a Pepper Mint mini-figure. For ages 8+. About $40. https://thamesandkosmos.com
K’nex Bionic Blast Roller Coaster Set (K’nex)
Besides being incredibly fun, roller coasters are wonderful examples of science in action, making abstract concepts like force, motion, inertia, and gravity come to life. This kit comes with everything you could possibly need to build a variety of roller coasters (including instructions, of course). Butbetter still, once you’ve built a few coasters, you’ll be inspired to put the instructions away and build your own. For ages 8+. Under $100. https://www.knex.com
Magformers Sky Track Adventure Set (Magformers)
For kids who are too little, too young, or possibly tooafraid to learn about roller coasters by riding on one, this great magnetic set will give them a lovely introduction to the concepts that make coasters safe and fun. Together, you’ll build a twisty, turny track and create your very own adventures. For ages 3+. About $100. https://www.magformers.com
If you have any gamers on your holiday shopping list this year, there are some fantastic games that have recently come out that we think they’ll really like.
LEGO DC Super-Villains
LEGO fan? Who isn’t? But when you combine LEGO with video games and then mix in the DC Universe, well, you’ve got the recipe for a sure-fire winner right there. This just-released game lets gamers play as villains for the first time ever. Choose from The Joker, Harley Quinn, Lex Luthor, Deathstroke, Killer Frost, Sinestro, and more from the Legion of Doom, then get down to the serious business of creating chaos and fighting against the forces of good. This is an action-adventure game that’s similar to LEGO Batman and features a two-player cooperative multiplayer mode. It’s available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Prices vary.
The holidays are supposed to be a time for relaxing and spending time with family and friends. But who says you can be learning something at the same time. These wonderful kids bring a number of science concepts to life.
Coding & Robotics (Thames & Kosmos)
Sammy is an adorable peanut butter and jelly sandwich (with some serious electronics inside) who’s designed to teach coding principles to young children. You don’t need any other devices—all the programming is done by laying out a series of code cards with instructions (turn right, turn left, play sounds, turn on your lights, etc.). Those, Sammy, who includes a robotic base, drives over the cards and memorizes the sequences, which he will then repeat on a larger map. Sammy teaches kids basic coding concepts like sequences, loops, algorithms, and conditions. Don’t like peanut and butter? No problem. The robotic base can be use with a number of other characters, including a penguin, mouse, and fire truck. Comes with a thorough, accessible manual with lessons, challenges, stories, and instructions for how to assemble the characters and more. We’re absolutely blown away by what young kids are able to do these days. Ages 4-8. About $115. https://www.thamesandkosmos.com
With Halloween but a distant memory and the taste of Thanksgiving’s pumpkin pie still fresh in our mouth, it’s time to start getting ready for the Holidays. Here are some great toys that will take your plans to new heights.
Aura Drone with Glove Controller (Aura)
One of the biggest frustrations that drone pilots—especially inexperienced ones—have dealing with joysticks. The new drone completely eliminates those challenges by putting all the controls onto the back of your hand. Just slip on the Gesturebotics glove and within seconds after unboxing your drone, you’ll be able to take off, hover, land, navigate an obstacle course, and do a variety of tricks. Oh, and guess what? There’s NO app involved. Everything you need is right on your hand. It’s a whole new wave to fly. Built-in height and distance limiters keep the drone under your power and make it easy to use indoors. And there’s a safety frame that protects the drone and walls from each other. Under $80. For ages 6+. https://aura-drone.com/us
If you love to travel as much as we do, you’ll love these bags. They’re good for overnights and weekends at Grandma’s, and just as useful for longer trips.
National Geographic luggage line (Eagle Creek)
As you might guess from the name, this line is extremely durable, with a weatherproof tarpaulin outer that makes the pack easy to wipe clean. That’s great for everyone, but especially if you have kids, since just about everything they drag around manages to get filthy. Another nice feature is the zippers, which are water resistant and self-repairing (!). There’s also a large lockable laptop compartment as well as zippered mesh pockets and key fob. You can separate your dirty or wet items from clean/dry ones and there’s even a hidden space for your passport, wallet, phone, or anything else you want to keep close and safe. Designed to be secure, it has compression straps, internal gear attachment, D rings, and it comes with an emergency whistle and reflective spots to help keep you visible at night. Prices and features vary. Visit https://www.eaglecreek.com/national-geographic for more info.
Some toys and games are ready to go right out of the box. Others take a little (or a lot) of work. Here are some delightful kits that you’ll love doing with your young child. Plus, a little something for adults or older kids.
Hidden Temple with T-Rex (Playmobil #9429)
You and your young explorers can embark on an adrenaline-pumping adventure deep into the jungles of Dino Island. The Temple itself has all sorts of creepy features, like dangling vines, test tubes, and a variety of things that eerily glow in the dark when you shine the included UV light on them. There’s also a heat-sensitive treasure map—rub it and the path to the treasure appears. Oh, and did we mention that you’re not alone on the island? Fortunately, you’ve got a functioning laser gun to protect you from the T-Rex (what would you expect from a place called Dino Island?). Ages 4+. Under $60. https://www.playmobil.us
Anyone who knows us will tell you that we’re suckers for “seasonal flavors.” We’re not sure whether that’s because we know they’re available only once a year or that there’s something about seasonal flavors that magically enhances the season itself. Either way, we really look forward to and enjoy those familiar tastes and smells that start popping up at this time of year.
Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice G Cube, Limited Edition (Godiva)
If you’re in the mood for chocolate, Godiva has some fun options. These cube-shaped boxes contain 22 individually wrapped Godiva truffles that are filled with that Autumn pumpkin spice flavor that we look forward to (and that plenty of people we know look forward to making fun of in public while wolfing it down in private). In addition to the pumpkin spice flavor, G Cubes also come in Dark Chocolate Vanilla, White Chocolate Coffee, Dark Chocolate Mint, and several other options. $11.95. Or for those of you who like Fall visuals to go along with those flavors, grab Godiva’s signature Chocolate Pumpkin Truffle Flight ($15), which contains five cute, foil-wrapped truffles that look like little pumpkins. https://www.godiva.com