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
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)
In 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
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)
Reading 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
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.
Besides 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
With Fall officially underway, you’ll probably be doing a lot more of your family fun activities indoors than you were just a few months ago. Here are some of our current Autumn favorites.
Gumball Machine (Klutz)
There’s no question that building things from start to finish is great for kids’ confidence. And if you can sneak in a little (or a lot of) STEAM learning, it’s a double win. This kit comes with everything you and your child will need to build a working gumball machine (except the actual gumballs). The detailed instructions are thorough and helpful. However, assembling the machine definitely requires adult involvement, and the finished product isn’t as sturdy as we’ve come to expect from other Klutz toys. That said, it’s still a fun way to spend time doing something with your child. For ages 8 and up. Under $25. www.klutz.com
Tech can bring us together or keep us apart. Here are two very cool new tech devices that focus on the former, and one that will just make your world a little more peaceful.
Relay (Republic Wireless)
What do you do if you have young children who you know aren’t ready for a cell phone (perhaps because you aren’t ready for the inevitable battles about screen time and social media), but you still want to be able to reach them when they’re not with you? Relay may be just what you’re looking for. Relay is essentially a walkie talkie, with a few fun twists. For example, since it works over 4G LTE and Wi-Fi, it has they same (essentially unlimited) range as a cell phone, so friends in different states can communicate with each other. And it has GPS tracking, so if you use the free companion app, you can see where all of your Relays are in real time. Relays also come in a variety of friendly colors and with stickers, so your child can personalize his or her device.