Category Archives: Reviews

Parents@Play 2018 Gift Guide #4 – Building Strong Families

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)

tonka mighty builder 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)

crayola construction buildlng blocks

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)

georello tech

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)

treehouse adventure

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)

'nex bionic blast

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

Parents@Play 2018 Gift Guide #3:  Video Games

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 supervillainsLEGO 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.


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Parents@Play Gift Guide #2 – Robotics and More

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)

Coding+RoboticsSammy 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

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Parents@Play 2018 Gift Guide #1: Taking Flight

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)

aura droneOne 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


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Ready, Get Packed, Go!

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.


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Some (Okay, a Lot of) Assembly Required

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)

Hidden TempleYou 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


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Getting a Taste for Fall

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)

Godiva cubeIf 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

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When All the Pieces Come Together

We love putting things together, whether it’s a puzzle, a STEAM-boosting science kit, a brick tower, clues to an Escape-the-Room game, or anything else. Those feelings of satisfaction can’t be beat—especially if you’ve worked with someone else (or a group of others) to accomplish your goal. Here are some great activities that will help you and your family piece together a lot of fun.

Holiday Glitter 500 (Master Pieces)

holiday glitterIn all honesty, we never would have thought of combining puzzles and glitter. But after spending some quality time putting together this 500-piece puzzle, it seems like a perfectly natural match. Based on the work of Oregon artist Dona Gelsinger, Holiday Glitter is just one of four glitter-infused jigsaws. This one features, as you might guess, a sweet Winter snow scene, complete with a friendly snowman, bunnies, a deer, other wildlife, and an inviting cabin in the woods. The puzzle pieces are made from recycled material, and the glitter is already attached, so there’s no mess to clean up. Under $13. http://www.masterpiecesinc.com


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You Can Never Get Enough of Books

Reading is an incredibly important skill, one that can affect almost every aspect of your life. Unfortunately, too many kids (and adults) don’t enjoy reading. Graphic novels and series by J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events), and Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson, The Kaine Chronicles, and others), have certainly helped attract young readers. But not all kids are interested in adventure, magic, or mystery. Here are some books for kids with other interests, including travel, building, filmmaking, writing, and life itself.

Adventures with Zap (by Diane Landy, Illustrated by Allison Hershey)

adventures with zapReading and writing go together, and kids who excel at one tend to do well at the other as well. This book is designed to help kids grow as writers by stimulating their creativity. Zap (a blue alien from the planet Vox Nova), Meow (a stowaway from planet Earth), and Gooey (an orange alien from Vox Nova) give young readers more than 100 creative prompts that usually start with getting the child to draw something (“pretend you and your family have the noses of hound dogs,” or “draw a picture of a time you fell down and got hurt”) and then ask the child to write about the drawing. It’s a smart, engaging way to build thinking and writing skills. For ages 4+. About $9.00 at https://www.amazon.com
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Autumn at Home

With summer in the rearview mirror and winter still a few months away, here are some extremely useful items that you’ll be able to use all year ‘round.

Calamityware (Calamityware)

calamitywareBesides bringing a little whimsy and art to your dinner table, these fantastical porcelain plates (the company also makes fabric, paper products, and gift cards) will also serve as conversation starters. While these plates, mugs, and other dishware use a traditional-looking blue and white color scheme, a deeper look will reveal that they’re anything but traditional. Featuring the work of artist Don Moyer, they’re covered with depictions of sea monster creatures, giant robots, frogs, and other creatures from sci-fi—all gentle reminders that no matter how bad things are in your own life, it could always get worse. Dishwasher and microwave safe, they’re are as functional as they are interesting. While they aren’t cheap ($42 for each plate, for example), they make your table a more fun place to dine. Check out all the options at https://calamityware.com
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