Tag Archives: parents@play

The Paper Chase

What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think about making something out of paper—Origami? Paper airplanes? Papier-mache? For most of us, those were activities we did in Kindergarten or in an after-school crafts program. But creating things from paper is definitely not just for kids. This week, the Parents@Play team had a chance to try out two books that made us look at paper—and what you can make out of it—in a whole new way. We produced some very cool projects. Better yet, we discovered an amazing new way for kids and parents to spend some fun, creative, entertaining—and electronics-free—time together. And we’re confident you’ll be able to do the same with your family.

Paper Made! 101 Exceptional Projects to Make Out of Everyday Paper, by Kayte Terry (Workman Publishing)
paper craftsWarning: if you read this book, you may never throw away another newspaper, magazine, empty cardboard box, bag, piece of torn wrapping paper, napkin, or candy wrapper as long as you live.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Kayte Terry is a genius. The things she creates from stuff that otherwise would have ended up in landfill or a recycling bin, are absolutely amazing. And if you’re willing to put in the time, you’ll learn how to make equally amazing things by folding, cutting, gluing, painting, molding, weaving, twisting, braiding, shredding, crumpling, and even sewing ordinary pieces of paper and cardboard.
more paper crafts parents@play
Projects include a fruit bowl from braided newspaper, a place mat from woven strips of lottery tickets, a book bag made out of an actual book, a lampshade made from decks of cards, jewelry, picture frames, tables, photo albums, and a lot more. Any or all of these can be done by one person alone. But they’re a lot more fun to do with someone else—or a group of someone elses.

The New World Champion Paper Airplane Book, by John M. Collins (Ten Speed Press)

paper airplanes parents@playUnless you’re an aeronautical engineer, forget everything you ever learned about making and flying paper airplanes and let John Collins show you the way. As the proud owner of the Guinness World Record for the longest distance traveled by a paper airplane (226 feet, 10 inches), Collins really knows what he’s talking about.

detailed instructions for paper airplanes parents@playHe starts the book with a kind of flight-school, explaining the physics behind flight, how different shapes and types of wings affect lift, what rudders and flaps do, and even how to throw for the best effect. He then gets into folding 101, starting with the most basic folds and working up to complex ones that may take quite a few attempts to master. You could skip all this and dive right into the airplane making, but your aircraft won’t be nearly as good.

Once you’re ready, you’ll find step-by-step, illustrated instructions for how to build the most amazing paper airplanes ever. We’re not talking about basic airplanes that you make in less than a minute and toss across the room. The planes you’ll learn about in this book might take half an hour or more of very detailed work to make. But instead of having a craft that stays airborne for a few seconds and then crashes, you may be able to build one that will float around for minutes at a time (at least that’s what Collins says. Some of his “follow foils” stayed up for that long. The longest we could manage was about 30 seconds).
All in all, a perfect activity for very patient parent-child teams ages 10 and up.

Saying No to the Summer Brain Drain

From a family-togetherness perspective, summer is a fantastic thing: family trips, camping, and, if you’re lucky, a vacation. Families often use summer as a chance to bond as a family but also to unwind. This is why camping vacations to places like Iceland are so in demand. If you are interested in visiting Iceland yourself, you can look here for more information. This gives these families time in the great outdoors and a chance to just hang out. Some families also look for local, kid-friendly places to keep their children active and having fun, as well as try to spend time together as a family (See – best ranked family entertainment near me for more information). But from the school perspective, summer is a disaster. Most education experts say that kids lose about three months of knowledge over the summer and teachers have to spend the first two months of the new school year catching up. Fortunately, there are ways-most of them painless-to keep what your kids learned last year firmly inside their head. This week, we review three books that, besides offering a great way to stay connected with your kids, will help you brush up on a few subjects you probably haven’t used in a decade. All three authors were guests on Armin Brott’s “Positive Parenting” radio show. You can listen to those interviews at mrdad.com/radio, then search for the author’s name.

Summer Bridge Activities (Carson-Dellosa Publishing, Greensboro, NC)
summer bridge activitiesThis book (it’s actually part of a series, one for the summer between each year of elementary school-1-2, 2-3, 3-4, etc.) is pretty traditional, meaning it has worksheets, graphs, maps, and even some flashcards. But it manages to keep kids and parents engaged while reviewing last year’s learning and getting a head start on next year’s. Besides math, reading, writing, and other academic subjects, the books also include physical fitness (actually doing it, not just reading about it) and suggestions for family field trips.

Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay up Late, by Laura Overdeck (Feiwel and Friends, New York)
bedtime mathBedtime stories are a wonderful way for families to spend time together-and to get kids to learn to love books. But have you ever wondered why we don’t do math with our kids before they go to bed? Sadly, math gets dumped into the category of things that most people do only because they have to, not because they want to. The goal of Bedtime Math is to change all that and to make math a fun, engaging part of our kids’ lives, to make it as beloved as the bedtime story. Each section (there are more than 30) starts with fun piece of trivia about such topics as flamingos, bungee jumping, exploding food, and team mascots. Then, there’s an equally fun math problem that uses what you just read as “props.” Actually, there are three problems on the same topic: one that involves mostly simple addition and subtraction, one that might require some basic multiplication, and one that incorporates logic along with the other math functions. It’s all such fun that you’ll find yourself reading the book long after the kiddies have fallen asleep.

Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists, by Sean Connolly (Workman, New York)
catastrophic scienceDespite the name, the experiments in this book aren’t really all that dangerous-as long as you and the kids follow the directions. The book is like an archeological dig through 34 of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in human history. We start with Stone Age choppers and the discovery of fire more than a million years ago, and go all the way through rocket launches, lasers, and DNA. Each experiment includes a brief explanation of what made the invention so special, what it does, and where the potential for catastrophe was. Those overviews are so entertaining (and educational) that you could, theoretically, quit right there. But why would you when you’ve got step-by-step instructions for how to actually replicate what you’ve just read about? You’ll have a blast-especially in the chapter that talks about gunpowder.

Making Summer Travel Fun

Planning to hit the road this summer? A road trip is a summer adventure that is fun for the whole family, one that has you hitting the road and heading off to amazing destinations. If you are thinking about this, you may want to find a car that is spacious and won’t make your family feel cramped inside, here’s a full list of seven-seaters you might want to check out, so your family can have a comfortable trip on that long trip ahead. Of course, having something to keep them preoccupied while you drive would be helpful too, so you’ll definitely want to check out some of the great travel items that will reduce family squabbling and keep the kids happy, entertained, and, most of all, quiet!

SeatPets (SeatPets)
seatpets parents@playFor kids, seatbelts can be the most annoying part of any trip-even worse than a younger sibling. Kids spend half their time squirming around, trying to get the seatbelt into a more comfortable position. And if they fall asleep, they often wake up with a seatbelt mark on the face. With SeatPets, those problems are a thing of the past. Little bro or sis, however, will still be as annoying as ever. SeatPets are soft, cuddly creatures that fit over any seatbelt, making it a lot more comfortable. They also have big, soft heads (lion, cow, ladybug, cat, dog, monkey, and monster), which help keep the child’s head supported and reduce those sore nap-necks. These plush pals also come with a variety of pockets so kids can store away treasures, and a handy backpack strap, which makes it easy for Junior to schlepp his own Pet when your hands are full. $19.95 (discounted if you buy more than one). https://www.seatpets.com/

Peppa Pig Picnic Adventure Car (Fisher-Price)
peppa pigIf you haven’t been to Europe lately, you may never have heard of Peppa Pig. But you will soon. Peppa is a precocious porker with her own TV show and, not surprisingly, a line of toys, books, and other products, including the Picnic Adventure Car. Kids will love to act out their own road trip with Peppa and her pal George (included) and the bright red family car, which plays songs, says phrases, and even does the famous (or soon-to-be-famous) “Peppa snort” that will send your child into fits of giggles. Comes with a picnic basket and blanket. $19.99. http://www.peppapig.com/

My First Camera (Plan Toys)
my first camera plan toys parents@playEven the youngest kids are fascinated by electronics. They’re also incredibly hard on them. With My First Camera, toddlers and preschooler will enjoy “taking pictures” just like mom and dad. Plus, it keeps those little fingers busy and away from your expensive camera. The kaleidoscopic lens gives kids a different view of the world every time they look through it, and there’s even a strap to help them keep it nearby. My First Camera is eco friendly-made of sustainable materials, water-based dyes, and organic woods, meaning it’s no big deal if it ends up in someone’s mouth. $15.00. http://en.plantoys.com/

Kidzoom Camera and InnoTab 3 (VTech)
If your child is too big to be distracted by a camera that doesn’t actually take pictures, try Vtech’s Kidzoom Camera. It’s a fully functional digital camera that not only lets your child take and edit photos (with cool effects), but also make movies and play three included games. The camera holds up to 1,000 photos that are as high-res as many budget-priced cameras aimed at adults. $39.99. http://www.vtechkids.com

vtech innotab parents@playVtech also has an array of tablets for kids, from the youngest right up until they’re ready for their own iPad. Officially, they’re toys, but they’re actually pretty sophisticated. The new InnoTab 3 has a child-friendly, multi-function, touch screen that’s easy-to-use and nearly impossible to break. And with Learning Lodge, which is VTech’s proprietary library, kids can download apps, books, music, or choose from games that teach them subjects like math, social studies, which will help minimize the summer brain drain. $69.99.

I hate to be all doom and gloom but my friend was recently in an accident and she needed to find a lawyer urgently to get her the help she needed. After speaking to so many companies such as ‘Attorneys in Teaneck, NJ‘, she finally found a reliable company close to home so she was able to have face to face contact with them! This type of contact meant that she was always kept in the loop about what was happening, and things got done quickly! People don’t like to think about getting into a car accident, but no matter how good a driver you are, something is bound to happen unfortunately. Not all car accidents are the same, some are worse then others. You can find out about the Common Neck and Back injuries from Car Accidents here if you are interested. This way, you will at least be prepared for something to happen in the future.

The Art of Parenting

Sometimes looking at a blank piece of paper and being told that you can create anything you want to, just makes you freeze up. The options are limitless, but somehow you can’t think of anything to do. This week we take a look at several art kits that can help parents and kids overcome even the most stubborn case of artist’s block.”

Gelarti Scene Creator (Moose Toys)
gelarti parents@playGelarti Comes with three paint pens, a large scene sticker, and a number of smaller stickers. Customize the stickers with the paint, let your creation dry overnight, and the next morning you’re ready to start decorating any smooth surface you can find. The stickers themselves are a little bit limiting: each shape, whether it’s a bird, puppy, bone, heart, or house is already pre-cut, so it’s not easy to make your own designs. It would be wonderful to have a similar Gelarti kit that came with blank sicker sheets so young artists and their parents could fully unleash their creative juices. That said, Gelarti is still plenty fun for parents and kids. Plus, Gelarti stickers are easily peeled off and can be moved and re-stuck over and over. Anyone who’s had to scrape stickers off of hardwood floors, windows, and refrigerator doors will appreciate that. Ages 5 and up. http://gelartistickers.com/ (don’t leave out the “I” before “stickers”)

Artzooka! (Wooky Entertainment)
artzooka kits parents@playArtzooka! has solved the artist’s block problem by making more than two dozen kits that are focused enough to give you a starting point, yet open-ended enough to encourage nearly unlimited creativity. We had a chance to try out four, and we loved them all.

  • Pop Stick Photo Frames comes with 40 popsicle sticks in a variety of colors and sizes, stickers, and glue. That’s pretty much it. Theoretically, you’re “supposed” to use all those ingredients to make picture frames—and you’ve got enough to make several really spectacular ones. But no one’s going to call the art police if you decide to create something else.
  • artzooka clips n' caps

  • Clip N’ Cap includes 16 bottle caps and can tabs, more than 35 stickers, string, and more. The pictures on the box show necklaces, but that’s just a suggestion.
  • Cupcake Creations was the simplest and, in some ways, the most fun. You basically get 20 colored cupcake liners, glue and stickers and some basic directions for creating delightful animals. But it’s easy as cupcake to go far beyond.
  • With nearly 300 pieces, Button Mosaics is one of Artzooka!’s biggest kits. Besides the sticky buttons, each kit includes several pre-drawn mosaic blanks. Younger kids may want to use them, but older kids and parents will want to make their own.

artzooka caps and tabsA few years ago Pepperidge Farms had a cookie that they advertised as looking just like homemade. Apparently they meant that the cookies—even though they were made by machines–weren’t all exactly the same (which explains why people refer to things that look identical as “cookie cutter”). Artzooka! does something similar with their bottlecaps, buttons, cupcake liners, and soda can tabs. Instead of using real ones from actual bottles and cans—a kind of artistic recycling that parents and art teachers have been doing forever—Artzooka! has made their own, in a variety of colors, often with pre-drilled holes for stringing up. Scavenging for bottle tops and buttons and decorating them yourself adds a layer of creativity. However, using the ones Artzooka! provides doesn’t detract in the slightest from how enormously fun Artzooka !kits are—and how great they are for parents and kids to do together. Ages 5 and up. http://artzooka.com/

What Else Have You Got Besides Pinocchio, Gepetto?

School’s out for most kids, which means they’re probably going to be spending a bit more time with you than they do during the year. We’re always on the lookout for activities that invite creativity, stimulate the imagination, and are fun enough that everyone in the family (including mom and dad) will want to come back and play again. One category of such crowd-pleasers is puppets. And this week we review some of our favorites.

folkmanis little puppets parents@playFolkmanis makes some of the nicest puppets around. They’re the most lifelike, best quality, and come in a dizzying array of designs. Folkmanis range from the large, very articulated (meaning that they have lots of joints, not that they speak well) puppets that have mouths, wings, arms, legs, and so on, all the way to tiny puppets that fit over a single fingertip. And, as you might expect, they also come in a wide range of prices.

folkmanis monkey in a barrel parents@playStarting at $8.50, you can bring home just about every species imaginable, and even some that aren’t imaginable at all (like monsters) and put on an amazing show. This year Folkmianis introduced nine new “Little Puppets,” or traditional hand puppets, including frogs, dragons, and unicorns. They’re small in size but huge in play value, and they all have working mouths and hands. The larger puppets are, of course, more expensive. Some of this year’s new entries are the Monkey in a Barrel ($22.00), Alpaca ($29.95), and the Sky Dragon ($44.95), whose moveable wings, arms, and mouth offer whoever is operating the puppet a great exercise in manual dexterity. There’s something for all ages. http://www.folkmanis.com

Melissa and Doug
melissa and doug puppet theater parents@playMelissa and Doug make a classic puppet theater ($78.00) that is one of the cutest we’ve seen. Kids will love putting on shows behind the red curtains, and they can even write the name of their show and list guest stars on the included chalkboard. There’s also a clock with moveable hands that shows the time of the next performance. My 5-year old son was feeling quite proud of his puppetry skills and performance abilities. We haven’t allowed him to take the theater out of the living room to his play room because he’s playing to a sold-out crowd of friends and neighbors almost every night.
Melissa and Doug also makes a line of puppets, from princes and princesses, to pirates and more. The adorable dragon puppet has a silly forked tongue, big googly eyes, and a friendly, expressive face. He also comes with a removable stick in one arm that your budding puppet master can use to manipulate him (these range from $20.00 to $50.00) All ages, http://www.melissaanddoug.com

Educational Insights
educational insights puppet on a stick parents@playFor a different, less-traditional take on puppets, check out Educational Insights’ Puppets on a Stick. The original group of three ($25.00 for the set) are oversized, and are meant to inspire dramatic play with silly faces, movable mouths, and those googly eyes everyone loves. They move their mouths by using a small, easy-to-operate child sized lever near the bottom of the stick. This year’s additions are The Sea Squad, which feature four different, brightly colored sea creatures, all sporting happy, goofy faces. Both the old and the new sets are cute, funny, interesting, and sure to bring a smile to any child or adult’s face. But keep an eye on them. They’re so adorable that in our house, they have a tendency to be “borrowed” by my son’s playmates (and their parents). Ages 4 and up. http://www.educationalinsights.com

Fun You Can Count On

Numbers are all around us and we use them every day. What’s the time difference between the east and west coasts? How many miles per gallon does your car get? What percentage of your income are you paying to the IRS? Which of two similar items in a grocery store is the better deal? How much do we tip a server or taxi driver? What does a 20% discount mean in actual dollars? What’s your favorite player’s batting average and your team’s win-loss percentage? Sadly, too many of us have trouble with basic calculations, partly because we decided as kids that math was either irrelevant (not true) or not fun (often true). This week we take a look at a line of games that will help you and the kids brush up on your math skills—and, perhaps more importantly, are a great fun for everyone.

mathable game parents@playThink Scrabble, but with numbers and mathematical equations instead of letters. Each player starts with seven tiles and plays as many as he or she can, combining them with the tiles that are already on the board to create number problems. Like Scrabble, there are blanks and double- and triple-value squares. A few interesting things are going on here. First, you’re using all four basic math functions: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. For advanced players, there’s no reason why you can’t add square roots, trigonometry, or more. Second, because the equations on the board are go up, down, and even backwards, you’ll start thinking about numbers in a very different way. Third, while calculations are essential, if you want to win, you’ll also need to employ logic and strategy. Ages 9 and up. $17.95

Mathable Junior
mathable junior parents@playThis variation on the classic is aimed at kids 5 and up. The tiles are larger and colorful, which makes them easier to handle and more fun for little hands to play with. The board has two sides, one designed for those just getting used to using numbers, the other for those who’re pretty good but aren’t quite ready to move up to the big-kid/grown-up version. $18.95

Mathable Quattro
mathable quattro parents@payWith a nod to the current Texas Hold ‘Em poker craze, Quattro uses a deck of 106 numbered cards instead of tiles. Players get dealt a hand and then four additional cards go face up in the middle. Players then create math equations by combining the numbers in their hand with those on the table. The one who uses the most cards wins. Again, the rules say only addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, but it’s fine with us if you want to add more advanced skills. Ages 9 and up. $6.69

Mathable Domino
mathable domino parents@playWhile the basic theme of creating equations is the same, this game adds a degree of difficulty by using domino-like tiles that have different numbers on each end. You score points by strategically placing your tiles on the board, building off of the ones that are already there. Ages 9 and up. $9.97

Mathable Booklet
mathable booklet parents@playMathable games are great for road trips. But with so many small pieces, you’re bound to lose some. The Mathable booklet solves that problem by cleverly creating versions of Domino, Quattro, and several other games that you can do on paper. All you’ll need is a pencil. And a big eraser. Ages 9 and up. $5.95

Many of the Mathable games are also available as free phone- and tablet apps, which you can download at either wookyentertainment.com or mathablegame.com

Here’s Looking at (and Listening to) You, Baby

Long gone are the days when mom and dad had to lie sleepless wondering whether they heard a cry or whimper from baby’s room down the hall. Today’s parents have a variety of technology to keep an eye—and an ear on baby from the next room or even from the office across town. For this column, we reviewed several Internet-enabled monitors, most of which work on private WIFI networks so there’s no fear of broadcasting your lives around the neighborhood to parents with similar devices. None of these monitors are cheap, but you’ll be able to get your money’s worth by using them as security monitors or nannycams after your baby gets older.


Peek Plus Internet Baby Monitor System

peek plus monitor parents@play

The Peek Plus has all the features you want. You can carry the included video monitor on your belt and watch it all over the. Or you can access video on your phone or Internet while Grandpa and Grandma (up to three viewers) see the same thing on a password-protected network. The only drawback here is the required bridge unit (included) that connects to your Ethernet network to make the WiFi work. This means another set of wires to deal with, though the bridge unit can be kept away from the camera. http://www.summerinfant.com


Withings Smart Baby Monitor

withings monitor parents@playA screenless monitor with a simple, clean design. The monitor itself looks like a white jewelry box that unfolds to reveal a simple 3MP lens. On the back, you’ll find just two plugs, Ethernet and mini-USB for recharging the battery. This is one of the few monitors that includes a bracket to attach the monitor on the side of a crib. It also plays lullabies and has a night light, two features that can both be controlled using the app from anywhere in the world. You can even take photos with the monitor with a 4X zoom and 90 degree pan that works with just a pinch or swipe of the finger. http://withings.com/en/babymonitor


Samsung SNH 1010 Smart Cam Monitor

samsung monitor parents@playThis is the monitor of choice for the social media-connected. It will send a tweet or email when there’s movement or sound from the baby’s room. It will also post motion- or sound-activated video and stills directly to YouTube and Picasa so you can quickly share with friends and the world. It runs on AC power and connects to the Internet via Ethernet or wirelessly. Up to 10 users can access the camera at the same time and an unlimited number of cameras can be added to the network. The SmartCam has night vision and even includes small speakers for two-way talk. http://www.samsung.com/us


IZON 2.0 WIFI Video Monitor

izon parents@playWe love the sleek look of the IZON, which has the look and feel of an Apple product and sets it apart from the rest of the crowd. This is a monitor for design lovers. It was easy to set up using a simple QR code that collects information on your local network. It was simple to use on our iPad and iPhone, and allows you to add multiple IZON cameras and view them at the same time. The IZON has motion and sound alerts, and can record up to 100 events for free to a designated cloud storage area. Sound and video are crisp, though not HD. However—and this is a big however—we can recommend the IZON only if your baby’s room always has a light on, since the monitor has neither LED nor infrared technology. http://steminnovation.com/

Break out the Bunnies

Easter is an often-underrated family holiday, and making Easter morning special for your kids by putting together the perfect basket from “The Easter Bunny” is always fun. To help you celebrate the occasion, here are some great toys that you’ll love doing with the kids.

disney matching game, parents@playDisney Matching Game. We’ve all played the classic matching game—where you and your child turn over cards, trying to find matching pairs. Now, the old classic comes with your favorite Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse, Tinker Bell, Donald Duck, and others—all decked out in their Easter best. Besides helping with memory (yours and the kids’), pattern recognition, and problem solving, this game is a great way for the whole family to spend time together. Ages 3 and up. http://wonderforge.com/

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Clash Alley Game. They’re baaaack…. A lot of toys, games, and even TV shows from the 80s are making a comeback—and today’s kids are loving those headband-wearing reptiles as much as you did when you were a kid. In this strategy board game, you and your child work together in 3D to beat the bad guys and rescue April, complete missions, and battle the evil Krang and Shredder. Oh, and there will be plenty of pizza breaks—after all, turtles (and humans) do have to eat. Ages 6 and up. http://wonderforge.com/

egg o'bunnies, parents@playEgg O’Bunnies. This adorable game gives the classic Barrel of Monkeys a cute, springtime twist. Kids will love trying to string together a long line of bunnies by the ears. See who can make the longest bunny chain, or tally up how many you can get within a set time limit. The Egg is a great take-along game, small enough to put in your purse or carry in your coat pocket. While waiting for dinner at a local restaurant, we played this game and had a great time. Meanwhile, every other child in the restaurant had his or her face buried in a smart phone, tablet, or DVD player. Increasing family bonding time and enjoying each other is incredibly easy—if you’re willing to unplug once in a while. Ages 3 and up. http://www.patchproducts.com/

Silly Egghead. This is another clever twist on a classic toy—in this case, Egghead replaces Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. Insert the interchangeable parts into the holes and you can make a bunny, pig, chick, or a wacky mashup and the three. You and the kids can flex your imaginations even further by creating an Easter or spring story to go along with your creation. Silly Egghead’s top is removable for parts storage and easy take-along fun. Ages 3 and up. http://www.patchproducts.com/

easter costume, parents@playEaster Costumes. Costumes and dress up are more than just fun for kids. Children mimic what they see and hear, and their role playing helps foster creative thinking, socialization, sharing, cooperation, and even problem solving. Oh, and all of that helps build their vocabulary and confidence. Hey, that Easter Bunny has a lot of work to do, painting all those eggs and baskets and delivering them all over the place. You and your little bunny (or chick, duckie, or other spring creature) can do it together. All you need is a well-stocked dress-up box. Let your child’s creativity run wild, and the two of you (or more) will be making memories in no time. If you need a little inspiration or direction, check out:  http://www.wholesalehalloweencostumes.com/easter/

Educational Systems That Actually Educate (and Entertain)

In recent years, there’s been a lot of controversy about “educational” DVDs, flash cards, and worksheets—do they work or are they doing more harm than good. The answer is all about communication. If you park your child in front of a DVD or leave your child with a stack of worksheets, there’s little to no benefit. But if you’re together, talking about what you’re watching or seeing, it’s a big win-win.  Here are two educational programs—one DVD-based, the other paper-based—that do a wonderful job of engaging parents and their preschoolers.


Little Pim

little pim parents@playIf you’re interested in exposing your little one to a new language, Little Pim is a great choice. Using the “Entertainment Immersion Method,” each Little Pim DVD covers a particular theme (usually common activities like waking up, brushing teeth, getting dressed, mealtime, and playtime) and introduces about 60 words and phrases. Kids (and adults) learn a new language the way they learned the first—by example and repetition. The discs are further divided into 5-minute chunks that make parent-child interaction, practice, and discussion a breeze.

Little Pim adds to the learning—and the fun—by including music CDs. The French Bop CD, for example, includes 15 popular French children songs which will help your little one retain the vocabulary while learning about French culture. To round out the experience, there are also word- and phrase cards to quiz your kids with (or that you can use to practice on your own). With patience and practice, today’s preschooler could learn enough to play tour guide on your next overseas trip.

Little Pim has kits in Arabic, Chinese, French, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Russian, all of which are perfect for the classroom, home, or a quick on-the-plane or in-the-airport language brush up. Most are also available digitally and can be downloaded to your tablet or smartphone. Preschool and up. http://www.littlepim.com/


Newmark Learning

newmark learning parents@playKids who do the best in school are usually the ones who get the most support and encouragement from their parents at home. Knowing mom and dad are there motivates kids and shows them that making an effort makes a difference. It’s tempting to leave everything to the teacher, but if we truly want our kids to be successful, there’s no substitute for rolling up our sleeves and working with our little scholars. Sometimes, though, parents want to be supportive but don’t know how. Enter Newmark Learning’s Parent Involvement Kits.

newmark learning parents@playEach kit is focused around a single subject (including math, social studies, and science) and contains books, a parent guide, and a reading journal. We reviewed the Social Studies kit, which covered a variety of topics such as maps, birthdays, towns, and more. Each book’s vibrant, large pictures and simple words encourage kids to read along with parents at story time.

If you’re working with a child who isn’t reading yet, you’ll really appreciate Newmark’s Sight Word Readers (included in the Parent Involvement Kits), small books designed to teach pre-readers to recognized basic words they’ll see all the time. Usually, sight word drills are boring. These are just the opposite. Parents@playmate Samantha, who’s a teacher by training, says that the Newmark Learning programs are the best she’s ever used. And she was thrilled to see her 5-year old flipping through a book, looking at words and reading them aloud. Perfect for home, home schooling, or the classroom. Pre-K – 2nd grade. newmarklearning.com/

Piecing Together Memories

Puzzles are a battle-tested, fun, and often educational way for families to spend time together. This week we review a series of traditional puzzles, one that combines elements of a puzzle and a Rubik’s Cube, and one that tells a story as it’s put together. While they’re all very different, they share a trait that’s an essential part of the Parents@Play mission: They’re a wonderful way for dads and moms to spend time with their kids—boys and girls. Oh, and did we mention that they’re fun?

Pieces of History Puzzles (Find It Games)
Pieces of history puzzle from Find It GamesIf you haven’t seen them, we recommend that you check out some Find-It games, an assortment of transparent canisters containing objects hidden in a sea of plastic pellets (they’re a lot cooler than they sound). Now, the folks at Find It have gone old-school and introduced the “Pieces of History” series of traditional puzzles, which include Pharaoh’s Egypt, Parade of Animals, and Dry Ground. Each has 300 pieces, and within the final image you can search for “hidden” objects that are also found in the border of the puzzle. In Pharaoh’s Egypt, for example, you’ll discover a leopard in a tree, a blue hippo in a market basket, and 38 more hidden objects and animals. Played together, these puzzles can spark wonderful conversations about history, geography, and discovery. Ages 6+. www.finditgames.com

Codee Scorpion (Techno Source)
codee scorpion from techno sourceOkay, take a look at the scorpion. Pretty hard to believe that it’s made from a single strand of 64 small blocks. But it is. Every Codee kit (in addition to the scorpion, there’s a penguin, pig, flamingo, gator, and others) comes with detailed instructions on how to twist, cajole, rotate, and prod the blocks into submission. Assembling it takes a lot of hand-eye coordination and even more patience, since each block has to be turned in exactly the right way. But it’s a ton of fun. The one drawback is that Codee isn’t really something you can do with a child–except to help with the explanations (although when I was giving it a try on my own, my 9-year old stood over my shoulder correcting my every move). The solution is to get two of them and race or build something unique. You can also connect two or more Codees to create bigger and more complicated works. Ages 8 and up. www.technosourceusa.com

The City of New York time puzzle (4D Cityscape)
New York puzzle from 4D CityscapeThis is an absolutely masterful puzzle. You start off by putting together the 500+ piece 2D puzzle of the island of Manhattan. Once that’s done–it’s going to take a while–you add the 3D element by inserting over 100 plastic models of actual New York buildings into the 2D puzzle (which, by the way, features glow-in-the-dark streets). Now the 4D part comes in. The buildings range from ones that would have dominated the skyline as far back as 1812 and move forward through time all the way to 2013, when the Freedom Tower (which will replace the World Trade Centers) will be completed. The box itself includes a poster with a brief history of the city peppered with fascinating trivia. An online education feature adds even more education—and entertainment—to the mix. Thirteen other 4D puzzles include London, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Paris, Chicago, and the entire US. An absolute blast for patient dads and kids 9 and up. www.4dcityscape.com