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It was kindergarten, and time for free play. Five-year-old me looked around the room, admiring the different stations to choose from. Among them were an art corner, a book nook, a computer with simple games, and shelves full of blocks. I remember sitting down with the chunky wooden blocks, instantly comfortable, and building away.
Sand castles. Tinker Toys. Blocks. Whatever the medium, most children are naturally drawn to building and construction play. It helps kids make sense of the physical world as they learn cause and effect, hand-eye coordination, and the principles of balance and gravity. They use imagination to design their creation, and gain a sense of satisfaction when completing it.
"Construction toys, of all toy categories, offer the most open-end opportunities for children to design and create imaginative structure. Using abstract, modular forms, construction toys present a 'what if' question and allow children to construct and continually modify their own representations.” --Karen Hewitt, Dr. Toy Talks About the Power of Construction Toys, Huffington Post Blog
That’s why two of the Holiday Top Toys at Learning Express Toys this year are construction toys: Magformers and Squigz. Each offers unique sensations and ways of building that challenge children to form creations within the parameters set by the toys’ properties.
Magformers construction sets are 2-D plastic shapes that have magnetic sides. By connecting the sides of the flat shapes together, you can create 3-D buildings, animals, robots, or anything your child imagines. The cylindrical neodymium magnets mean every magnetic piece is attracted to every other piece—this means even the youngest engineers can play with this construction toy! In addition to the standard construction kits, Magformers offers sets with accessories like wheels and gears to build moving cars and walking robots!
Squigz are suction-based construction toys that stick to virtually any flat surface, and to each other. Kids can experiment by comparing how strong the attachment is to a wood table, a refrigerator, or a window. They’re made of a flexible plastic, so construction can be very creative and go in all directions. Squigz come in three sizes: Starter, Mini, and even pipSquiqz for toddlers, featuring different textures to help develop tactile sensory processing skills.
Each of these construction toys has instant appeal, fun colors and presents new challenges. Check out both at Learning Express Toys!
The holiday season is a magical time to be a kid.
Some of my most cherished holiday memories are of Christmas morning. Every year my parents would insist that my brother, sister, and I line up in birth order on the stairs as they took a photo of us in our PJs. We would squirm in anticipation trying to get a look at the presents under the tree for what felt like hours before they would finally let us run to the living room. To make the most of the morning, we would each take turns opening our presents one at a time, oohing and aahing at each other’s goodies.
While all three of us kids loved Christmas, I was by far the most vocal about it. My family likes to tease me about how dramatic I was on Christmas morning. I always made a huge display of how much I loved my gifts, using phrases like “This is what I’ve always wanted!” and “This is the best Christmas ever!” like I was a character from a Claymation movie. My siblings thought that I was ridiculous, but my parents have since told me that they enjoyed watching me gush over my presents and said that it added to the holiday cheer.
Thanks to my famed gift-opening reactions, my father liked to pick out special toys that were not on my list with which he could dazzle me. The most impressive of these was a pogo stick. Having never seen one before, I was a little confused when I opened the large, awkwardly-shaped present. My dad explained how it worked and promptly went outside to clear a large practice area for me on our patio.
I was absolutely terrible at it. But I was determined to master the art of pogoing and spent weeks trying to get more than two bounces at a time before falling off. My dad would come out to give me pointers and utter words of encouragement, to no avail. Then one day, it just clicked. I started getting so good at the pogo stick that I could do 200-300 bounces at a time! I still hold our family record and will always remember that wonderfully unexpected gift.
I am so happy that my father encouraged me to try out new toys. He exposed me to fun activities and engaging products that I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen for myself.
If you’re looking to surprise your kids with exciting new toys this year, Magnatiles and Magformers are the way to go. These Top Toys are colorful, unique, and interactive. Read why these magnetic building sets should be on your list this year:
Magnatiles Kids ages 3+ will love building mosaics and 3D structures with these beautiful, multi-colored and clear tiles. Each set contains square and triangular-shaped tiles that have magnetic edges, which attract on all sides to provide endless design possibilities. Sets come in either solid or clear colors and are available in a variety of sizes. The clear Magnatiles sets can be used to create eye-catching configurations resembling stained glass art and are even more entertaining when placed on lighted surfaces. The fun never stops with these magnetic building tiles, and you can be sure that they will keep your kiddos entertained for hours. See some of the amazing designs that you can create with Magnatiles by clicking the image.
Magformers These award-winning construction sets take magnets to a new level. With all different sizes and themes, the Magformers sets can be used to create amazing 3D structures including geometric shapes, buildings, and even a moving car! The magnetic pieces come in both square and triangle shapes that are open in the center for easier gripping and maneuvering. The magnetic edges securely attract, allowing kids to create a variety of structures while the bright, rainbow colors draw the eye and add extra flair to every design. Perfect for kids ages 6+, these sets are fun for the whole family. Click the image to watch Magformers in action!
Inspire your young ones to explore remarkable new toys this year with two construction sets that are simply magnetic. You might even get an award-winning reaction in return.
Happy Holidays and stay tuned for more Top Toy reviews this season!
I’m going to be completely honest and say that I absolutely LOVE children’s movies—to the extent that I have no problem badgering my younger cousins to come with me and see a 90 minute G-rated film about talking animals, princesses, and imaginary worlds far far away. There’s something about good, clean comedy and heartwarming tales of characters realizing their true potential that puts a smile on my face.
Of course when I heard that there was a LEGO movie in the works, I was thrilled. LEGOs have been a toy box staple for decades, so it comes as no surprise that kids want to see them in action. In honor of this big screen debut, we decided to come up with a list of reasons why we love LEGO and The LEGO Movie.
1. LEGOs inspire creativity
The name LEGO comes from the Danish words leg godt meaning “play well” and these products encourage just that by helping kids discover new ways to build and create. Learning Express Toys recently hosted a LEGO Kid Inventors Day Contest for children to submit their original designs. It was incredible to see what these kids came up with! Kids submitted everything from LEGO games with intricate rules and play boards, to entire cities complete with skyscrapers and roads; there was even a special invention that dispenses goo (because who doesn’t have issues dispensing their goo?).
2. LEGOs are timeless
The LEGO Company was first started in Denmark in the early 1930s and has been a family business ever since. The LEGO brick is the company’s most important product and has changed very little throughout the years. Just as LEGO, the company, has been passed down through different generations so has our love of LEGO products. Parents enjoy joining their kids in building and discovering new ways to play with this classic toy.
3. Product variety
Children in over 130 countries worldwide spend an estimated 5 billion hours playing with LEGO products each year. LEGO has done an amazing job of staying relevant throughout the years by constantly thinking of new directions for their product. Boys and girls of different ages can always find something that speaks to them, whether it is LEGO Friends, Star Wars, Heartlake High, or Super Heroes. Our stores carry a wide variety of LEGO items because our customers are always looking for something new and exciting to take home, including The LEGO Movie Minifigures!
4. Fun for kids and adults
The LEGO brand is everywhere, with everything from LEGOLAND amusement parks and hotels to this new feature film. But this is not the first time LEGO has appeared on the silver screen—the first LEGO film was released in 1951 and was shot in black and white with no sound. The upcoming LEGO Movie has something to offer both kids and their parents. There is plenty of action and funny jokes that appeal to kids and adults alike. The whole family will enjoy a trip to the theater for this blockbuster.
5. Great message
The LEGO Movie tagline is “The story of a nobody who saved everybody”. Throughout the movie Emmet, a regular ol’ LEGO guy, is mistaken as the “Master Builder” and is expected to save the LEGO world from being glued together by the evil President Business. I love when children’s films encourage kids to recognize their full potential and this movie really shows that anyone can be a hero! As with their main character, LEGO has shown that nothing is impossible when, in 2001, the LEGO Mindstorms Robot “Jitter” was sent into orbit around the earth with the International Space Station.
6. Amazing cast
LEGO has proven to be larger than life with some impressive, record-breaking designs such as the world’s longest toy railway line at 1,800 feet, the world’s largest LEGO mosaic made with 384,00 bricks, and the world’s largest LEGO castle using over 400,000 bricks. So it’s no wonder that The LEGO Movie attracted a larger than life cast of stars. While kids are enjoying the film’s silly jokes and bright colors, adults will love hearing the voices of some of their favorite actors including Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks and countless others. The actors were perfectly chosen and bring unique qualities to each of their hilarious characters.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the film!
Every year around Thanksgiving, I start to brainstorm what to give to friends and family for the holidays. This search for the best gift always makes me think of those clever DSW commercials where the women are on the hunt for the perfect pair of shoes as the jungle music plays in the background; it’s as if they’re cheetahs stalking their prey in the Serengeti. This is exactly how I feel when I do my holiday shopping.
Because I love being really organized, I like to create a detailed spreadsheet complete with color coding for my holiday gift list. Every year I run into the same issue—there are a few people who consistently stump me; their column is always a huge blank space in my mind and on my spreadsheet. That’s when I turn to the Internet for help. Fortunately, Learning Express has created a list of Holiday Top Toys to help direct you to some of our best-selling and most unique products. This week, I am focusing on two products that make incredible gifts—Snap Circuits by Elenco and Boogie Board by Improv Electronics. These gifts are perfect for kids who love technology. While Snap Circuits show kids how to construct their own high tech gadgets, Boogie Board allows them to jot down their ideas and plan out their designs on a screen that erases with the push of a button! The second I opened these toys, I experienced that moment of gift-brainstorming enlightenment.
One of my colleagues at Learning Express, who requested I refer to him as Wolfgang in this post, is a digital mastermind and complete tech nerd. I realized that my gift to him should be a chance to play with one of these products and ask him to guest blog in this week’s post. Wolfgang loved this idea and immediately headed for the Snap Circuits Sound kit. Below you will find his witty guest blog debut:
“I was charged with the task of reviewing the Snap Circuit's Sound kit. My initial resistance to using a kit aimed at children was immediately overcome when I started playing with the parts and realized I had the capacity to build working electronics. Putting the pieces on the board was a snap, it was exciting to build, and it felt electrifying when I flipped the switch and watched my creation come alive. My creative side was sparked by how easy it was to move the parts, and I was so amped from building my first creation that I started working on another. I can see how this toy could provide hours and hours of play. I could play until it hertz! With over 180 different models included in the manual there are currently hours of guided play in this kit and, with a little imagination, you could create hundreds more. I found the Theremin model to be particularly enlightening as it used a photo sensor to change the pitch of the sounds. As I moved my hands around the senor, the pitch changed in reaction to my shadows just like a real Theremin. I was able to play a truly revolting version of Symphony #40 with my shadow. It's hard to feel negative about a toy that has such a grounded educational purpose and also delivers a shocking amount of fun.
I hope I've relayed how much fun this kit is, without ohmitting too many details!”
After seeing how much fun Wolfgang was having with the Sound kit, I decided to break open the Snap Circuits Light kit. This kit comes with a circuit board and 43 individual pieces including a fiber optic tree, egg, and light tower, snap and jumper wires, battery holders, resistors, transistors, capacitors, LED lights, a speaker, a microphone, a glow-in-the dark fan, and a motor (phew that was a lot!). But the best part is really the manual—it comes with detailed instructions and illustrations for 182 different designs that address various skill levels. I chose a fairly simple design that included the LED lights, which I was proud to see blinking when I finished. You also can hook up your iPod to the speaker and it will play music while the LEDs and fiber optics light up, creating your very own light show!
The Boogie Board is another great tech-savvy gift for kids and even adults. This LCD writing tablet eliminates the need for paper and pens, making it a no-mess drawing and writing tool. The Boogie Board comes with a stylus, stylus holder, and magnet kit to hang it on the fridge and other surfaces. Boogie Boards are perfect entertainment for traveling, waiting rooms, and regular play time—parents can even use it to jot down notes and keep track of the grocery list.
There’s no need to drive yourself crazy this year trying to come up with the perfect gift for your little techie: Snap Circuits and Boogie Board are sure to be a hit!
Thanks for reading and happy hunting!
Greetings, Learning Express readers!
Five or so years ago, I lived in Weddingland. Everyone in my life was getting married; college friends, high school friends, cousins, coworkers, you name it. The save-the-dates had infiltrated my home and taken over my refrigerator. Everywhere you looked there was another beaming couple letting me know an invitation would be forthcoming. Throughout all the craziness, I became somewhat of an expert on the best gifts to give a newlywed couple all thanks to those life-saving wedding registries!
Fast forward present-day. I’ve graduated from Weddingland and have moved on to Kidville. A good portion of the happy couples I watched walk down the aisle to say “I do” now have bounding, adorable children.
And so wedding season has now turned into birthday season- the only problem is that there are birthdays all year round! It seems as though we have a party to attend every week, often a double header depending on the Saturday. In fact, children’s birthday parties currently form the crux of my family’s social life. So here I am, pretty much in a constant state of searching for the perfect kid’s gift.
And don’t forget about that peak gift-giving season into which we are headed full-throttle. Oh my goodness—between Christmas and Hanukkah, I have a TON of youngsters to shop for. Only this time, here in Kidville, there are no registries to guide me!
That’s why I love participating in the Top Toy reviews from Learning Express Toys. These reviews help moms like me cut through all the noise and really get to the good stuff. It’s always a blast to test out the toys with my children as well as other kids in our neighborhood. This week, we were sent two amazing products that made this year’s holiday Top Toy list for Learning Express – Mini Flyer and Magformers!
When I first read the description of the Mini Flyer: Infrared Flying Saucer, I was imagining a UFO of sorts. In reality though, the Mini Flyer looks a lot more like the love child of a mama helicopter and a daddy Hacky Sack. In other words, it is indeed an original invention.
Nine-year-old Andrew happily tested out the Mini Flyer. Having never seen anything of the sort, he carefully read through the instructions. The Mini Flyer is a lightweight ball—slightly larger than a golf ball—attached to a helicopter rotor. The device comes with a charging station that cleverly doubles as a racquet.
In no time, Andrew had the Mini Flyer whirling around the room. It hovers nicely in the air before slowly making its way to the floor, like a good helicopter should. The Hacky Sack analogy comes into play because besides using the included racquet to propel the Mini Flyer, one can also launch the toy in the same manner one would a Hacky Sack—using feet, knees, elbows, and palms.
“I could play with this all day!” professed Andrew, as he really began getting the hang of his solo game with the Mini Flyer. We agreed that the toy would also be super fun for a group.
The directions are printed right on the racquet face, which is wonderful because you won’t lose them. The manufacturer explicitly says the Mini Flyer is for indoor use only, which makes it the perfect winter gift for kids on your list age eight to 100!
Later, I invited our five-year-old neighbor James over to test-drive the Magformers magnetic construction set. James is a kid who LOVES to build. The little engineer-in-training is so fun to watch, and boy did he enjoy the Magformers!
Magformers are a novel twist on building blocks because they are flat (instead of blocked) pieces with magnetic edges. The magnets bond the pieces together firmly, so you can defy gravity in all kinds of neat ways; you can even make a ball!
As James placed one piece near the next, the magnets found each other and the Magformers snapped into place with a satisfying click.
“These are the best blocks ever! I’m gonna build a lighthouse!” Then later, after his masterpiece was complete: “You really have to use your brain when you play with these because they are so much different from regular blocks.”
James’ mom was thrilled to see how engaging this toy was for her son and, because she is a practical mother, was very excited that the Magformers are flat. She pointed out that they will take up far less space in the playroom and are easy to pack up and take on the road.
I was glad to see that this construction set is so sturdy and well made– this is surely a toy that will stand the test of time and make for a great hand-me-down.
After hours of fun play time, I’m sold on these two great toys. It feels so satisfying to get a handle on my out of control holiday shopping list.
Thanks for reading!