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Learning Express Toys
...always the perfect toy.
It was the early 1990s, and recycling was all the rage. Captain Planet and the Planeteers were battling pollution on TV, and “reduce, reuse, recycle” was becoming a mantra. So when I was asked to make an invention for a science fair, I made a robot from recycled shampoo bottles.
To be honest, my robot didn’t do anything other than stand there. (I somehow walked away with an Honorable Mention.) But there are kids out there inventing every day and learning as they go. For some examples, see the kid inventions from last year’s White House Science Fair.
Whether fun or funcational, the child inventor is learning critical skills:
“The ability to invent requires something that comes naturally to most young children: creativity and imagination. Creative thinking is an important life skill that can be applied to everything they do, especially to problem-solving, which is what inventing is all about.” –Ellen Church, Let's Invent Something Together!, Scholastic Parents
Kid Inventor’s Day is Jan. 17. What will your child invent?
Kids that invented things from the trampoline to earmuffs.
Here are five toys and books to encourage your kid inventor:
50 Science Things to Make and Do offers kids easy instructions for activities ranging from physics (Fire a Balloon Rocket) to nature studies (Butterfly Feeder) to chemistry (Making Gloop). These hands-on activities will inspire kids to think about how they interact with their world and wonder, “What else can I make?”
LEGO bricks allow kids to build entire creations out of small elements. LEGO builders visualize an end product and use problem-solving to get there, using the tools available and revising as they go. The possibilities are limitless – just check out this LEGO car, full-sized LEGO house and LEGO piano!
3. Snap Circuits
Snap Circuits teaches kids about electrical circuits with the parts and instructions for hundreds of projects they can complete solo. Kids can also make their own creations, experimenting with batteries, lights, fans, speakers and more! Just watch this kid explain the circuitry—will he grow up to invent the next smartphone?
4. Crazy Aaron’s Mixed By Me Thinking Putty Kit
Mix, stretch, and observe the results with Crazy Aaron’s Mixed By Me Thinking Putty Kit. Kids can experiment with three special-effect putties and three concentrated-color putties. Does blue putty glow in the dark better than red? Does glitter affect the stretchiness? The combinations are endless!
5. Air-Stream Machines Kit
Hovercrafts aren’t just science fiction! Kids will learn about how air pressure works while building their own hovercrafts that can traverse water or land. The impressive and functional results will build kids’ confidence and even spark an interest in engineering. What vehicle will your child dream up next?
I’m inspired by all the kid inventors out there! Keep your kids motivated with opportunities to stretch their imaginations in new ways. I can’t wait to see what they create.
My husband and I are expecting our first baby this month, and it has been so much fun to buy our baby-to-be gifts that remind us of our own childhoods: books we remember reading like Pat the Bunny, Winnie the Pooh cartoons, and Peter Rabbit room décor. We can’t wait for when our daughter is old enough to enjoy some of the same toys we did as kids, too!
Retro toys can help us connect to our kids and remind them that we, too, were once young. We love that so many great toys have stood the test of time – and some are more popular than ever before!
Here are 5 retro toys that are making a comeback (or never left):
Simon, the electronic memory game from the late 1970s and 80s, is still entertaining kids today while helping them sharpen their memory skills. The battery-powered game is shaped liked a flying disc with four large buttons: green, red, blue and yellow. Simon lights up the buttons in a specific order that the player must repeat, with progressive difficulty. Each button lights up and makes a unique tone when pressed – the same classic sounds I remember from childhood! The only upgrade is that the buttons are now touch-sensitive instead of physical, clunky plastic buttons.
This puzzle toy, invented in 1974, has fascinated generations! The Rubik’s Cube is a 3x3 cube the player twists and rotates to match up the colored tiles on each side. The puzzle has exploded in popularity with a sport called “speedcubing,” a worldwide phenomenon with many official and unofficial competitions. Today’s version has fully-plastic tiles, so there are no more peeling and fading stickers (and no cheating)!
The arcade game Pac-Man was first released in 1980, and quickly became one of the most famous video games of all time. The yellow, pizza-shaped Pac-Man character navigates a maze, eating pellets and fruit and being chased by ghosts. Many versions of this game exist today, including the Pac-Man Mini Retro Arcade Game. This portable game brings home the nostalgia of an arcade cabinet while being just 6 inches tall!
Believe it or not, Lincoln Logs are celebrating their 100th anniversary! Named for President Abraham Lincoln (and the log cabin he was born in), Lincoln Logs are miniature notched, wooden logs for building structures. The 100th Anniversary Tin includes 111 all-wood logs and all pieces are made in the USA.
Spirograph is the geometric drawing toy that has helped kids make mesmerizing works of art since 1965. Place a pen tip in one gear, hold the anchor gear to your paper, and use the pen to turn the gear around and around as you draw. Soon you’ll have an incredible curve design! Today, Spirograph is better than ever, with a variety of updated features to make it easier to use. Many of our design kits include Spiro-putty, which holds the anchor gear in place. The Spirograph Cyclex and Spirograph Junior kits keep the gears self-contained within a plastic frame to prevent slipping. There are options for all ages (3 and up)!
In a world of smartphones, virtual reality games and other cutting-edge technology, there’s something satisfying about pulling out these retro toys and watching kids enjoy them. Try your hand at these too – it’s amazing how quickly it comes back.
Cheers to the toys of decades past!
Keeping kids cooped up indoors when the weather’s frightful can be a recipe for disaster—unless you have the right distractions to keep them busy. Avoid sibling disputes and boredom by helping kids stay physically active and work on a skill while they’re stuck inside!
Spin-balls LED Poi and Slimeball are two Holiday Top Toys that fit the bill. Both for ages 6 and up, Spin-balls and Slimeball allow kids to practice hand-eye coordination and both fine and gross motor skills. Feel free to use them outdoors on mild days—but when it’s not-so-delightful out, these are both safe for active, indoor fun!
What is poi? Poi is a style of performance art involving swinging a ball on a string. The art form originates centuries ago from the Maori people of New Zealand, and is now practiced worldwide as a form of dance, meditation and performance at festivals.
The Spin-balls LED Poi kit comes with two soft, light-up silicone balls attached to short ropes, and an instructional DVD for learning tricks. The easy-to-follow lessons begin with simple forward spins – swinging the balls vertically by your sides, like the wheels on a car. Advanced moves include “Hyper Loops,” which involves spinning the two poi in opposite directions, intertwining the strings and untangling them again while creating a stunning visual effect!
Spin-balls light up in many color modes, including a strobe light effect. Perform in the dark to dazzle your friends and family! For cooperative fun, split the poi between two people to create a partner dance.
Slimeball is the key to ooey-gooey fun without the mess! Slimeballs are green, sticky balls that stick to their targets with a satisfying “splat” – but never make a mess of the floor, walls or clothing. They come in multiple sets, with accessories for either solo target practice or competitive play.
Slimeball Dodgetag includes two target vests for players to wear while taking aim at each other. The balls only stick to the green, sticky part of the vest, so accuracy is important!
Slimeball Target Practice includes a target that can be hung anywhere. Kids can develop their aim and move farther and farther away to challenge their hand-eye coordination.
The Slimeball Slinger is a slingshot-like tool to launch your Slimeballs up to 30 feet!
Finally, the Slimeball Flinger Darts set includes a dartboard with scoring for competitive play. These Slimeballs have a built-in launch mechanism, allowing you to shoot them from a fingertip or the special Flingers.
Try both of these Top Toys for safe, satisfying indoor fun this winter!
Card games were a staple of my childhood. I played them with my friends on camping trips, with my church youth group, and even in the cafeteria at school. In middle school we held fast-paced tournaments of Rat Slap, a game involving a lot of quick slapping on the table and collecting the card pile.
Card games, whether a traditional deck of 52 or specialty games, have tremendous benefits for kids of all ages. First of all, they’re screen-free and involve social interaction. They help kids learn to follow rules and engage in friendly competition. Shuffling the deck and holding the cards in your hand promote fine motor skills, while the particular game can build math, memory, logic, visual, or strategy skills.
“Card games can teach math and memory skills, as well as strategic thinking, psychologists and sociologists say. Also, the conversation and friendly rivalry that come with sitting down to play cards can strengthen family ties. Family games also can build children’s confidence: The rules are the same for everyone, and it is fun to play a game in which anyone can win.” —How Family Card Games Teach Math, Memory and Self-Confidence, The Wall Street Journal
SLAPZI and Happy Salmon are two silly, fast-paced group card games for children ages 6-8 and up. They’re very simple to learn, making them great choices to play with the family at holidays or with a group of kids after school. They both make great stocking stuffers and are Holiday Top Toys!
Happy Salmon has four card types representing four simple actions: Pound It, High 5, Happy Salmon and Switcheroo. Players stand in a circle and aim to find a partner who has a card seeking the same action as they are: a high-five, a fist bump, slapping the arms to imitate a fish tail or switching places. Once you’ve accomplished the action, you discard that card.
It’s goofy chaos as each player shouts and makes hand motions indicating which card they have at once! The first person to get rid of all their cards wins.
SLAPZI is a quick-thinking game in which players race to match a picture card in their hand to a given clue. For example, for the clue “too heavy to lift,” you might slap down “bulldozer.” In the rush to be first, you might accidentally slap down “donut” – that’s when everyone gets a good laugh!
Both of these fun games promote reaction time, visual recognition skills and social skills.
So get slap-happy with these uniquely entertaining card games!
Last week, I went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. As expected, it was full of magical creatures, wand-wielding wizards and enchanted adventures to stop the bad guy.
The movie takes place in 1926 – naturally, magic has taken a digital turn 90 years later!
While you may not be able to tame magical beasts with a flick of your wand, you can impress No-Majs (non-magical people) with a flick of your smartphone instead. Marvin’s iMagic Box of Tricks teaches you 21st century magic, combining smartphone augmented reality with traditional magic tricks. The kit shows you how to perform card tricks and illusions using props and more. On-screen effects add to the fun. It’s one of our Holiday Top Toys!
One trick involves the participant choosing a card, looking at it, then holding it flat between his hands. The magician shows off an empty plastic box and waves the smartphone over the box. The phone screen shows the box appearing to burn away, revealing the participant’s chosen card inside. Then – voila! – the card is actually inside the box!
Another trick involves making all the app icons on the phone disappear. Shake the phone and the apps slide off the screen, magically appearing as physical tiles in the palm of your hand!
Marvin’s iMagic Box of Tricks comes with all the props you need, plus a code to unlock the smartphone app for iPhone or Android. The smartphone is not included. The app contains instructional videos on performing each trick, plus the magical screen that enhances the tricks.
I learned two of the simplest tricks, Cascading Lights and Membership Card, in just a few minutes. However, the amount of tricks in the box will keep any magician occupied for hours – plus countless hours of performances!
The video tutorials are silent, showing you how to perform the trick without any narration – only gestures and demonstration. This way, no one can overhear the secrets as you learn! This enables the videos to be used by magicians of all languages, and allows you to get creative with the “patter,” or words you say to dazzle the audience while performing the trick.
Pro tip: The app file is quite large at 421 MB, so make sure your phone has space by deleting some unwanted videos or apps before you download it. It’s worth it for the amazing tricks you’ll be learning!
Marvin’s iMagic Box of Tricks is recommended for ages 8 and up, and it’s great for the whole family to enjoy.
So bring some magic to this holiday season!