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)
FlipaZoos 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
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)
Transformers 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/
Here’s some of the latest in family tech.
VR Real Feel Racing
Now 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
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)
Like 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.
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)
Optical 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
As you head out into the blustery, winter-y weather that has already descended on many of us, you’ll want to make sure the kids are well equipped to handle everything that mother nature dishes out. Here are some of our favorites for your snow days.
Boy’s Dedicate Jacket (Dare 2b)
One of the most important winter wear items is a durable, water-resistant coat, and this one is great for both daily wear and serious outdoor play. It not only wears well, but has all sorts of features that your kids (and you) will love, including a waterproof outer layer, a hood that detaches (but doesn’t fall off), and elastic trim for easy adjusting. It also has internal mesh pockets, all of which zip (which should reduce the number of gloves that get lost), and bight, reflective details, making spotting your child on the trails or during snowball fights even easier. For girls, there’s the Entrust Jacket—same coat, different name Both are about $140 at http://www.dare2b.com. Infant snuggler suits (one-piece coats for babies) are also available for about $50 each.
Now that the Holidays are a (hopefully) pleasant memory, what do you do with all the leftovers? Here are some of our favorite finds that will help give 2016 a clean sweep and start your 2017 with an even cleaner slate.
Shark Rocket Complete
People have been traipsing in and out of your home for months now. And whether it’s winter mud, snow, salt, spilled food, or random holiday wrapping and decorations, the floors are a mess, and could really use a deep cleaning, right? The Shark Rocket Complete is a beast of a vacuum, with two powered brush rolls to make sure every bit of debris gets picked up. On hard flooring, the two rolls pick up large, small, and stuck-on items. On carpet, they pull in large particles and deep clean to remove ground-in dirt. Working together, these two brush rolls make quick work of just about any dry mess you can think of—and they handle regular vacuuming around the house, too. http://www.sharkclean.com
Because playing with your kids—no matter how old they are—is a blast, here are some great ways to start your 2017 off with well, a blast.
Laser X Two Player Laser Gaming Set (NSI International, Inc.)
There are a lot of words to describe Laser X, but to keep the list short, we’ll limit ourselves to “Wow!” “Amazing!” “Cool!” “Whooo—hooo!” and, most importantly, “Let’s do it again!” Get the point? We reviewed the two-player set, which, if you’re a laser newbie, is the only way to go. Playing against someone else is infinitely more fun than playing by yourself. This set comes with two laser blasters, two vests, an interactive “coach” who tells you to get down and lets you know when you’re running low on ammo, cool sound effects, and hours of fun. It’s great for outdoor or indoor play, and since the vests and blasters glow, it’s especially fun at night. It’s also compatible with other Laser X equipment so you can field teams. Each vest allows you to select Red Team, Blue Team, or to go rogue and blast everyone. Ages 6-16. $24.99 for a single blaster and vest and $49.99 for a double set at major retailers or at www.GetLaserX.com.
You mean you haven’t finished your Holiday shopping yet? Not to worry. Here are some great last-minute options that are sure to please.
Compete Hot Wheels Edition Wearable (nabi)
In theory, this fitness tracker for kids is pretty similar to the one you may have your wrist, with its step counter and a promise to make exercise less boring. But unlike most trackers for adults, this one actually keeps that promise by truly making exercise fun by letting kids set distance goals such as a marathon or a run across the Brooklyn Bridge, giving kids info on how much activity they’ll need to do to burn of that bag of chips or slice of pizza (an approach that has been proven much more successful than simply listing calories and grams of fat), and providing all sorts of other incentives to get up and move. Ages 6+. Plain nabi Competes are under $40 for a pair. Barbie- and Hot Wheels branded Competes are under $30 for one. https://www.nabitablet.com/wearables/compete
Is your child begging for a new pet this year, but you’re not excited about having to clean up after yet another member of the family? Look no further: Here’s an array of low-maintenance pets for your young animal lover.
Zoomer Chimp (Spin Master)
The latest in the line of Zoomer robotic pets, this little guy has all the moves—standing upright or on all fours. Right out of the box, he knows 10 commands (watch what happens when you tell him to “go bananas”), and you can teach him even more. Zoomer Chimp makes a lot of sounds, has built-in “progressive play” (meaning that he doesn’t always move the same way), and he’ll let you know how he’s feeling by facial expressions and the color of his eyes. His wiggles and dances are adorable and funny, but he’ll need batteries, which aren’t included. Ages 5+. Prices vary widely, so shop around. http://www.spinmaster.com