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Learning Express Toys
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 on vacation, traveling in the car or on rainy days.
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!
SLAPZI is one of our Summer Top Toys!
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!
I hear this all the time:
“Live in the moment.” “Relax.“ ”Stop worrying.”
Do you have trouble following that advice? I do. It seems like my mind never stops racing.
Children, however, seem to have no trouble living in the moment. When they’re playing, all that matters is their game, their toy, or their art project.
That’s why art projects which can absorb you completely, like Spirograph and the Mindfulness Coloring Books series, are so magical.
I discovered coloring books for adults last year. The first time I tried one, I rediscovered that laser focus on play that kids so easily have. I sat coloring for about an hour, and I was completely engrossed in the pattern and colors. The TV was on behind me, and I didn’t even hear it.
Similarly, drawing geometric patterns with Spirograph is mesmerizing. The smooth, repetitive motion of the gears turning while a beautiful pattern emerges is soothing.
Another great thing about both of these art experiences is that kids and adults can sit down and enjoy them together. Put on some calming music, and it’s a perfect quiet, family activity.
The Mindfulness Coloring Series (Vol. 1, Vol. 2 and Moments of Mindfulness) encourages you to color your way to a clearer mind. Calling themselves “Anti-Stress Art Therapy for Busy People,” the books feature hand-drawn, flowing designs to color on every page. The purse-sized books ensure that your moment of Zen is never far away – you can pull out your book and spend 10 minutes on your lunch break, school pick-up line or train ride letting the stress melt away as you color.
Moments of Mindfulness, the latest volume, features additional mindfulness activities mixed in with the coloring pages. These include a prompt to describe what you observe from a busy café, and a sensory meditation involving placing warm tea bags over your eyes.
The Mindfulness Coloring Series is recommended for kids and adults ages 12 and up.
The classic geometric drawing toy from 1965 is back and better than ever. Spirograph kits are available to suit many drawing needs and ages, beginning with Spirograph Junior for ages 3 and up!
Spirograph Junior features chunky gears designed for small hands, and a drawing tablet that holds the gears in place. The Spirograph Deluxe Kit includes Spiro-putty that secures the gears to the paper, and a carrying case with a built-in work surface. The Spirograph Cyclex Kit keeps the gears self-contained within circular templates, so you can create beautiful mandalas without losing any parts.
Take the opportunity to breathe, de-stress and get lost in your artwork this holiday season. I can’t wait to see what you create – share it with us on Facebook, with #LETopToys!
Color me happy,
I was babysitting my 8-month-old cousin the other day, and watched her struggle with a problem: How to get the pacifier in her mouth the right way. She had the fine motor skills to pick it up and bring it to her face, but getting the nipple facing the right direction took several tries. Before my eyes, she was working on the visual-spatial skills needed to look at the pacifier, understand which way it needed to face, rotate it in the right direction, and bring it to her mouth.
We use our visual-spatial skills - the ability to tell where objects are in space, how far objects are from you and from each other, and mentally rotate and transform objects – constantly. We merge in traffic and estimate how much furniture can fit in a room, for example. Architects, graphic designers and physicists rely on these abilities to do their jobs.
Two of our Holiday Top Toys are excellent for developing visual-spatial skills: Magformers and the 3Doodler. Both of these toys involve creating 3D objects out of 2D pieces, boosting those object transformation abilities!
With the 3Doodler Start, kids flex their visual-spatial skills by envisioning the 3D sculpture they want to create and figuring out how to build it with the 3D pen. The 3Doodler Start Kit includes an activity guide with two-dimensional shapes kids can trace, lift off the page, then connect together to assemble their structure. For example, the Eiffel Tower can be assembled by tracing four flat shapes. As they gain confidence, kids can move on to designing their own 3D creations!
The 3Doodler is easy to use and safe for kids 6 and up. There are no hot parts, messy resins or glue. The pen charges up and is used either wirelessly or plugged in, making it even easier to doodle anywhere!
With Magformers, children build 3-D creations from flat geometric shapes. Cylindrical magnets are encased in each side of the plastic triangles, squares, hexagons and other shapes, and each side of each piece sticks to any other piece.
The sets come with diagrams to help kids get started with their 3-D shapes. Once they get the hang of it, they’ll be building castles, airplanes, towers, or whatever they can imagine.
Magformers construction sets come in various color schemes and are great for kids 6 and up. For the child who loves cars or electronics, the Magformers Walking Robot Set and Magformers XL Cruisers Set include a walking mechanism or wheels to set your creations in motion.
They're also great building toys for younger children (with supervision). Since any side of a piece can attach to any other side, it's easy for preschoolers to grasp the concept and start building quickly.
Both Magformers and the 3Doodler combine science, technology, engineering, art and math, making them perfect toys to promote the STEAM educational approach.
Holiday shopping for little ones is fun – everything is so adorable! But how do you choose a gift that’s really practical and educational? Whether you’re looking for gift ideas for your own kiddo or another baby, toddler or preschooler in your life, think about the specific skills they’ll learn.
Here are four picks for the 2016 holiday season with clear skill-building benefits. You can feel great about gifting any of these Holiday Top Toys!
The SpinAgain is a colorful stacking toy with a new twist – the stacking discs corkscrew down the center pole. Toddlers (it’s recommended for 12 months and up) seem to never grow tired of placing the colorful discs at the top and watching them spiral down!
Why it’s educational: The SpinAgain promotes cognitive skills, fine motor skills and visual-spatial perception skills as children manipulate, sort and arrange the discs and aim them for the center pole as it wobbles.
The Gigantic Step & Play Piano is a 6-foot vinyl piano mat designed to allow little feet to stomp out tunes!
The piano plays eight different instrument sounds: piano, saxophone, violin, accordion, trumpet, harp, xylophone and guitar. Kids can even record and play back their best compositions. Make music active by incorporating dance moves while stepping on the keys! It’s recommended for ages 3 and up.
Why it’s educational: The Gigantic Step & Play Piano promotes gross motor development and sensory processing as children walk, crawl, and hop from key to key and hear the instrument sounds. As they compose their own melodies, children will use cognitive abilities such as logic and creativity.
The Pewi YBike Elite is a unique balance guide and ride-on for little ones. Infants 9 months and up can grab onto the handles and push as they learn to walk, while older toddlers love it as a foot-powered ride-on toy. The multi-directional wheels and four legs allow complete freedom of movement and stability.
Why it’s educational: The YBike is all about gross motor skills. Children develop their core strength and coordination of their arms and legs while riding the YBike or pushing it while learning to walk.
The Munch Mitt is a great teething accessory for babies 3 months and up! With bumpy textures, crinkle noises, and bright colors, it provides a variety of sensory input as baby chews on the silicone to relieve teething pain. The secure strap means baby won’t drop it, and it’s fully washable.
Why it’s educational: The Munch Mitt provides oral, tactile, visual and auditory sensory input as babies explore the teether with their hands and mouths. The bumpy textures encourage babies to chew the mitt instead of their hands or other objects, and the crinkle noises keep babies entertained.