As important as it is to get kids up and outside, the fact is that we live in a high-tech world and it’s critical that our children develop a high level of comfort will all things electronic. Here are a few of our new faves.
Marbotic Smart Letters (Marbotic)
This interactive alphabet toy cleverly combines physical and digital play by combining traditional (and very beautifully crafted) wooden letters with the touchscreen technology that’s as close as your tablet. Just download the (free) app, place the letters on your device, and start ooh-ing and ahh-ing. These smart letters will help your child recognize shapes and letters, learn letter sounds and patterns, build vocabulary, learn to read and write. Comes with 26 letters and is available in eight languages (American English, British English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish and Danish). And since you aren’t accessing wi-fi or Bluetooth, it’s 100% internet-safe. For ages 5+. About $57. www.marbotic.com
Who doesn’t love a good race—especially one through the air? Drone technology has evolved to the point where just about anyone, regardless of skill level or coordination skills, can enjoy being a pilot. This week, we take a look at several aircraft that that have something for beginners and experts alike. Rather keep your feet firmly on the ground? No prob. We’ve got you covered.
DRL Air Elite 115 Racing Drone Set (Nikko Air)
If you or your young pilot-to-be are just getting started, the Air Elite 115 is a great entry level drone that comes with a removable circular ring that protects the drone and hard objects like walls from damaging each other. This multi-speed quadcopter is extremely easy to operate, highly responsive, and doesn’t require FAA registration. It hovers beautifully and comes preloaded with 16 one-touch stunts that will have your airshow spectators cheering. If you have two of these drones, you can race head-to-head, or you can set up a cool obstacle course or race track using the modular gate system. Although the Air Elite comes with batteries and replacement propellers, there’s no GPS or video camera, but it’s really intended as a platform for learning the basics of drone piloting. Ages 7+. About $35. http://www.nikkoair.com
Who among us wouldn’t like a little more smarts? These new games will definitely make you and your kids more intelligent (and, in one case, more legible).
Sticky History of the World (Magma/Laurence King)
This 32-page book, charmingly illustrated by Caroline Selmes, takes young and old readers on a brief tour of the entire history of our planet. It starts with the Big Bang, and over the course of eight panels, moves to the age of the dinosaurs, the Neanderthals, Vikings, and all the way to the 21st Century Space Age. Dozens of stickers help get kids actively engaged, and the accompanying text ads context and depth. Ages 6+. Under $12. www.laurenceking.com
Well, we’re back from our annual trip to the arctic east coast for Toy Fair, where we had a chance to preview—and play with—the latest and greatest toys and games. As in previous years, certain themes are more popular than others. Some are holdovers from last year (often with a twist) or reboots of classics from generations ago. Others are completely new. Here are some of the trends we think will be big this year. James Hamilton, of the popular pop-culture website http://geekstronomy.com was there to lend a hand covering the massive show floor, and we thank him for contributing to this coverage.
This is one of the holdover trends. In this case, the twist is a “blister pack,” that shows part of the toy or contents. What’s left is revealed only to the buyer, and the hidden toy is often a rare item. The other big news in blind boxes is that the packaging has gotten very creative, often serving a dual purpose, such as being used as a Christmas ornament, storage tin, or as part of the toy itself. We love this, and think that your kids will, too.
Looking for the perfect quiet-time activity to do with your school-age kids? These colorful, artistic kits are perfect for after school, weekends, or even a little pre-bedtime relaxation.
Bath Fizzies (Creativity for Kids)
One of the newest entries in Creativity for Kids’ impressive line of craft/art-oriented kits, this one comes with everything your child will need to make six soothing bath fizzies. Specifically, you get two butterfly molds, baking soda, fizzy formulas, fragrances, shimmering stuff, and charms to hide in the fizzies. You also get gift wrap and tags, in case you want to give your creations away. In our house, bath time and meal time are separate events, but just in case a younger child gets ahold of one, these fizzies are gluten- and paraben-free and vegan. Who knew? Now, just slip into the tub and relaaaaax. For ages 7+. About $16. http://www.fabercastell.com
With football season behind us, you probably won’t be doing much tailgating for a while. But there’s always a need for tasty, healthy snacks (game night anyone?). And let’s not forget about Valentine’s Day….
noosa mates (noosa yoghurt)
We’ve been fans of noosa yoghurt for a while, and were excited to hear that they’ve introduced both new flavors (including apple and pumpkin) and new yoghurt/topping combinations. These mix-in-style yoghurts are called noosa mates, and they pair the creamy noosa whole milk yoghurt we already enjoy with delicious, high-quality toppings like crunchy granolas, roasted nuts, pretzels, and premium chocolate. Just pull off the top, flip the “mix in” side into the yoghurt, and stir. It’s very satisfying, satiating, and tastes great. Available nationwide at many grocery- and super stores in single packs, four packs, and large 24-oz containers. Prices vary. https://www.noosayoghurt.com
This week we review several fun toys that will get you and your kids rolling—and in one case, rocking and rolling.
Light & Sound Firetruck (BRIO)
Your toddler will love rolling all over your house—lights flashing and sirens wailing—putting out fires. The retractable hose and connectable ladders give the firetruck a relatively realistic feel, and the two smiling fire fighters (included) will keep your little one company as she saves the day. The truck’s soft plastic wheels won’t damage your floors, and there’s no water involved, which is nice. Batteries are included. For kids 18 months and up. Under $30. http://www.brio.us
While you may have sworn that you’d never, ever sound like your mother (or father), you can probably hear their voices when you shout “reminders” to your kids to put a coat on as they streak out the door. Here’s some great winter gear that’ll satisfy even the pickiest grandparents (and parents, of course).
Xersion Midweight Puffer Jacket (JCPenny)
As a top layer in mild weather, underneath something else for colder days, or all by itself if Spring ever decides to show up, this jacket is well worth a look. It’s got a “puffer”-style chest or vest and knit sleeves with thumb holes. Available at JCPenny in four color combinations for around $64. https://www.jcpenney.com
Escape the Room-type games are all the rage, and for good reasons: They’re challenging, fun, often educational, usually require cooperation and teamwork, and are all-around wonderful activities to do with family and friends. This week we review several new entries into this growing segment. We’ve enjoyed them, and know that you will too.
We Detectives (Tactic Games)
This easy-to-learn board game is a great way to introduce younger kids to the idea of cooperative crime solving. Players draw WePhone cards (which look like mini text messages), which either send them around the board to gather evidence that will be used to keep the “bad guy” in jail, or report an obstacle that sidetracks the detective. Each piece of evidence has a corresponding tile, which is placed in the center of the board. The object is to gather all the evidence before the WePhone tiles run out. If you do, the crook stays behind bars, where he or she no doubt belongs. If you don’t, well, shuffle the WePhone cards and try again. You’ll need about 20 minutes to play. Under $15. 2-4 players, ages 7+. www.tactic.net
The weather has been all over the place this winter, and so has your wardrobe. Shoes are often the hardest part to figure out—wet, cold, uncomfortable feet make for a long day. But these boots (and other footwear) will set you on the right path.
Men’s Jack Hayo Waterproof Oxford Schiefer (Wildlaufer)
Waldlaufer is best known for their women’s shoes, but their men’s line is well worth checking out. We’ve been wearing these shoes for about two months now, using them for everything from daily wear to hiking and even to the gym a few times. They’re a bit heavier than your average shoe, but are rugged, sturdy, easy to wear for long days out and about, supportive, and definitely keep those feet dry. They‘re also so comfortable that you won’t leave them in your closet when the season changes. About $190. https://www.waldlaufer.com