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
We’re big fans of classic toys and games. But we’re also big fans of new tweaks on those classics. This week we review several clever updates to games you know well.
Cat Crimes (Think Fun)
Remember the classic Clue game—you know, the one where you use logic and deductive reasoning to figure out who committed a grisly murder? In this game, you’ll use the same basic skill set, analyzing paw prints, toy placement, and other clues. Cards give important details, such as that Ginger was sitting in front of the birdcage and that Tom Cat was to Ginger’s right. By determining where each cat was sitting at the time of the crime, you’ll eventually be able to finger the feline that committed such dastardly offenses as coughing up a hairball or swallowing your goldfish. For one player, age 8+. Under $13. https://www.thinkfun.com/
Besides camps, poison oak, blockbuster movies, vacations, and sunburn, summer is also known as a time when kids forget a little too much of what they spent the just-finished school year learning. But it doesn’t have to be that way. This is the first of several columns that will highlight some of the many ways you can help turn that dreaded summer brain drain into a brain gain. And there’s no better place to start than with history.
Little Guides to Great Lives (Laurence King)
One of the best ways to learn about history is to read about the lives of the people who lived it. And this new series of books for young readers is excellent. Each of these 64-page books is charmingly illustrated and filled with stories, scenes, and fascinating nuggets from the subject’s life. So if you want to know how Nelson Mandela inspired the world, why Amelia Earhart is an aviation hero, what makes Leonardo da Vinci a genius, why Frida Kahlo is an art icon, and what Marie Curie did to become a science superstar, look no further. Although they’re written for children, adults will love these books too—and they’re perfect to read aloud. For ages 7+. $11.99. http://laurenceking.com/
How many times have we told our kids to “Use your words!”? These great new games will give kids some extra practice doing just that.
Word Rush (Tactic Games)
Another game where you come up with words that match a certain category. But this one has a few new twists. First, once a category card has been selected, players turn over nine letter cards and then take turns listing words that start with one of those letters. Second, the instant you’ve said your word, you flip over the sand timer and the next player has to say a word and flip the timer back over before time runs out. The faster you answer, the less time you leave the next player. Of course, you can adjust the rules to make things easier or more challenging. Under $18. For 2-6 players, ages 8+. http://www.tactic.net
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
What better way to start off a new year than by learning about art, science, and building?
Just Add Milk Science and Art Kit (Griddly Games)
While it’s definitely possible to do some of the experiments in this kit by adding nothing more than milk, if you want to do them all, you’ll need a few other items from your cupboard, including glue, a bottle of cola, white vinegar, and baking soda. Once you’ve got all your ingredients together, you’re ready to start learning about the science of art (or is it the art of science?). You’ll experiment with natural reactions (such as what happens when you drop food coloring into milk and then add a drop of soap), watch how colors explode, and create tie-die-type designs that you can turn into mouse pads and other real works of art. $15.95. Ages 5+ (adult supervision recommended). http://griddlygames.strikingly.com
Ever one of us has a story. But we’re not all equally skilled in telling those stories. This week, we review several unique products that are designed to jump-start your creativity and get those story-telling juices flowing. It may start with “Once up on a time…”, but where it goes from there is completely up to you.
Ghost Story Box (Laurence King)
Combine these 20 two-sided puzzle pieces to create a different ghostly tall tale every time. Actually, it’ll be a long tale—up to eight feet, to be precise. The pieces are there for guidance, but the true inspiration needs to come from you. Better yet, get the whole family together, and as each person adds a piece to the puzzle, he or she also adds a few minutes of horror to the story. Ages 6+. Under $15. http://www.laurenceking.com
Big things can, as the old saying goes, come in small packages. And with the Holidays almost upon us, here are some new games that fit neatly into small boxes but provide nearly endless opportunities for big fun.
Dead or Alive (Laurence King Publishing)
This easy-to-play card game is like Fantasy Football, but for crime aficionados. Each of the 32 cards features one or more gangsters (including classics like Al Capone, John Dillinger, and Bonnie and Clyde, and lesser-known villains like Belle Star and Mishka Yaponchik), along with a bit of history and scores for body count, charisma, finances, rap sheet, firepower, and legacy. Play your card, and may the baddest baddie win. For ages 7+. Under $10. http://www.laurenceking.com
With so many fascinating, amazing, gorgeous, and marvelous creatures as there already are in the world, one might reasonably wonder why anyone could want even more. The answer is simple: Because it’s fun! Here are some of our current favorite Holiday creature comforts.
Beat Bugs Singing Jay (Blip Toys)
Jay and the other Beat Bugs sing along with songs from season one of their hit Netflix streaming show. If you’re a Beatles purist, you may have some trouble with the Fab Four’s music being sung by adorable insects, but if you want to introduce your little ones to some of the best rock music ever created—including “Help,” “Blackbird,” Good Day Sunshine,” “Penny Land,” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” you can’t go wrong here. Picture books and activity books (with stickers and word searches) sold separately. Figures come with batteries. For ages 3+ https://bliptoys.com/