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Thanksgiving is just around the corner and with it, the official start of the holiday shopping season. Things can become stressful around this time of year as people begin to prep for large meals, create lengthy gift lists, and map out Black Friday and Small Business Saturday strategies. With all of the craziness, it’s easy to get distracted by minor details and overlook the most important aspects of Thanksgiving.
When you think about it, the timing of this heartfelt holiday is truly perfect. It’s fitting that just before the start of a season that is commercially focused on presents, families come together to celebrate what they already have. Thanksgiving also provides a wonderful opportunity for parents to teach their children about the importance of gratitude and giving back to others.
Learning Express Toys wants to help relieve some of the holiday stress by presenting exclusive craft kits that enable kids to create thoughtful gifts to show their appreciation to the ones they love.
Make-Your-Own Snow Globe Kit These one-of-a-kind snow globes make great gifts for friends, relatives, and even teachers! Kids will love designing various winter and holiday-inspired scenes with this unique craft kit, which provides materials for three different snow globes. Kids can create an arctic penguin playground, a reindeer wonderland, and a snowy Santa scene using resin figures and sculpting clay. Perfectly suited for kids ages 6+, your child will experience the joy of hand-making gifts from the heart with this cute craft kit.
Wire Wrap Jewelry Kit Kids ages 8+ will be excited to design dazzling jewelry for their loved ones with the Wire Wrap Jewelry Kit. Using brightly-colored telephone wires, they can twist, coil, and wrap crystal beads to create bracelets, necklaces, and much more! The provided wire frames make crafting beautiful shapes and designs easy and fun. Family members and friends will appreciate their custom-made gifts and are sure to enjoy showing off their unique accessories.
PlushCraft Reindeer Ornament Kit Learning Express Toys offers a wide selection of Orb Factory PlushCraft kits. Continuously a customer favorite, these craft-by-number kits are entertaining, beautifully designed, and perfect for kids ages 6+. For the holiday season, Learning Express Toys worked closely with the Orb Factory to create a special Reindeer PlushCraft Ornament kit only available for LE Toys customers. To create this adorable Rudolph-inspired ornament, kids must match colored fabric and accessories to numbered slits on the ornament base and use the included stylus to push the fabric securely into place. The overall result is soft, sweet, and perfect for any tree or mantel. Spread the holiday cheer and give this hand-crafted decoration to grandparents, aunts, uncles, classmates, or teachers.
Selfie Journal Kit If pictures are worth a thousand words, selfies are this generation’s main mode of communication. The Selfie Journal Kit allows kids to compile all of their most cherished memories into beautiful pages in this 40-page hardcover journal. This kit provides kids ages 8+ with all the materials and space needed to scrapbook their photos and create personalized accents with drawings, doodles, stickers, and more. The perfect gift for best friends, classmates, and siblings, this journal is a beautiful (and trendy!) expression of love and friendship.
Learning Express Toys is extremely grateful for our loyal customers who support locally owned and operated toy stores. We hope that these exclusive craft kits will help your children create beautiful displays of affection for the most important people in their lives.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving and stay tuned for Top Toy reviews this holiday season!
Hello Learning Expressions readers!
This week I tried out a fantastic toy from Curiosity Kits, the Build Your Own Super Sonic Rockets, and had a blast exploring a different side of my personality. I’ve never been much of a tomboy myself, typically I preferred to play dress-up and set up tea parties with my American Girl dolls when I was a kid. However, after being a nanny of three young boys for several years during college, I’ve come to appreciate the fun adventures that can be had when building and playing with toys that are typically more geared toward boys.
I suddenly found myself enjoying creating solar powered space rovers, playing rowdy games of Frisbee tag, and smashing toy cars together in imaginary monster truck competitions. During my time with these boys, I discovered a whole new world of fun and learning that brought me back to my childhood. So I happily volunteered to try out the Build Your Own Super Sonic Rockets and set to work creating a state-of-the-art launching machine! I was particularly excited to test out this new toy because it was developed right here at the Learning Express Toys Home Office by our product developer, Sandie. The Super Sonic Rockets Kit is just one of the many products that will be exclusively available at Learning Express this holiday season!
Before I even opened the box I was already fascinated. The fun facts on the side of the box explained how, when, and by whom rockets were first invented—leaving me feeling a little smarter than the moment before! I was even more excited to find out that these rockets actually light up and glow in the dark; who wouldn’t want to fly rockets at night and get the full space launching experience? This toy is genius!
With this positive first impression I decided it was time to start building. One thing you need to know about me is that following diagrams and directions has never been my strong suit so it goes without saying that I was a little anxious to find intricate looking instructions and lots of individual pieces in the Super Sonic Rockets kit. After giving myself a much-needed pep talk, I got over my fear and dove right in! For those of you who feel intimidated by toy instructions like me, download this PDF to get my dummy-proof version!
I’m proud to say that I successfully constructed the entire launcher and each rocket with their flashing lights and glow-in-the dark decals! I found the whole kit to be an awesome tool for kids in terms of scientific learning, imaginative play, and good old physical fun! This is the perfect kit for play dates, parties, and a day at the park because it gets kids outside and provides hours of entertainment and excitement as kids take turns launching the different sized rockets and chasing after them. This activity would also be a great way to bring all the kids in the neighborhood together for some outdoor fun as it applies to a wide age range, six and up; you might even find some parents wandering over for a try!
Check out my video to see how it works!
If you’re looking for an easy and fun way to get your kids away from the computer and out in the fresh air, go to your local Learning Express Toys store to find the Build Your Own Super Sonic Rockets from Curiosity Kits! Also, check out my blog Klutz Month –Imagination Innovation for details about more high-flying fun projects you can do with your kids!
-Thanks for reading and I hope you have a blast!
As a kid, I distinctly remember that the grown ups would all start getting giddy this time of year. One television commercial captured the sentiment well, and it sticks out in my memory. A mom and dad are skipping through an office-supply store pushing a shopping cart. With big grins on their faces, they twirl around tossing paper, pencils, and binders into the cart all while their kids look on with distain and the Christmas carol blares in the background: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
Yes, Labor Day is fast approaching, and that means back-to-school time is in full swing. As a kid I didn’t completely understand why my parents loved this time of year so. In fact, it kind of hurt my feelings when mom and dad waved goodbye furiously and cheerfully to my brothers and me on the first day of school as we hopped on our bikes and rode off. Didn’t they want us around?
Now that I have kiddos of my own, I so get it. I bet I’ll get it even more when my kids are teenagers. For some reason the further summer progressed, the wilder my boys became. It’s to the point now where they are climbing the walls. I don’t know for sure, but I think they just really need the continuity and structure of school again. I find myself singing that darn Christmas carol, and I too have an extra jaunt in my step!
This week’s toys fit in nicely at this time of year. The D.I.Y T-Shirt Ties Kit is the perfect craft to kill time these last few dog days of summer while creating a unique way to accessorize those back-to-school outfits. And the Slingshot Soakers Kit is a great after-school activity to blow off some steam during the warm Indian summer days ahead. And the great thing about both of these items is that they've been exclusively developed by the folks Learning Express Toys - which means you won't find them anywhere else!
The Orb Factory’s D.I.Y. T-Shirt Ties
I haven’t seen these t-shirt ties since the 80s, but my toy testers Anna, 11, and Megan, 9, assure me that they are once again on trend.
“Oh my gosh, these are so great! I’ve been looking for a good t-shirt tie. Now I don’t have to use a hair elastic anymore!” said Anna. T-shirt ties are definitely back in style!
The girls got to work straight away. The kit has a variety of t-shirt tie shapes, including hearts, butterflies, and the more traditional round form. After picking the shape you want, you then pick from the many patterns to trace onto your t-shirt tie. The girls loved the animal print motifs as well as the owls.
Anna and Megan spent a good hour and a half coloring their t-shirt ties with the included colored pencils. The kit also includes charms you can design to hang off your t-shirt tie, as well stylish chains and jump rings to attach the charmsThe charms really were the icing on the cake for the girls.
When you are all though coloring your masterpiece, you are ready for the best part. Simply slip your creation into the oven for 3 minutes, and it miraculously shrinks down to the proper t-shirt tie size as well as hardens into a thick, sturdy, glossy plastic.
“Wow, the colors really pop!” exclaimed Megan. She’s right. The colored pencil designs are subtler upon entering the oven. But the shrinking/baking process really concentrates the color, and the final product is quite vibrant.
Overall, the D.I.Y. T-Shirt Tie kit is super fun and super easy. These girls are coveting a t-shirt tie to compliment their back-to-school outfits, so why not give them a way to get the accessory they crave while getting their creative juices flowing? It’s a win-win situation!
The Orb Factory’s Slingshot Soakers
Wow, my brothers would have LOVED this toy. It’s a giant slingshot that shoots sopping-wet sponge balls up to 50 feet into the air – what’s not to love?
Anna and Megan thoroughly enjoyed the Slingshot Soaker. I love toys that transition from craft project to game, and this kit certainly fits the bill. The girls loved making the sponge balls and were excited to bring them outside and launch them. It’s thrilling to launch something so high and so far, and there were lots of oohs and aahs and shrieks of laughter. Rather quickly though, the men at our family barbeque absconded with the toy, much to the joy of their inner 12-year-old selves!
The slingshot comes with uniquely designed sponge balls that hold a good amount of water and deliver a wet but harmless blow to their targets.
One person can hurl sponge balls off the foot launcher slingshot by sitting down and using their arms and legs. However, our crew found it loads of fun for three people to get involved in the launching process; even though the slingshot is designed as a foot launcher it can also held in your hands so a third person can shoot the sponge. It’s always helpful if a toy is good for a single kid or good for a crowd!
Of course, we had to think about other objects we could eventually launch from this contraption. Water balloons were certainly at the top of our list!
This Slingshot Soaker would be a fabulous way to celebrate the last warm days of the year and give the kids a really fun after-school activity to soften the set back of suddenly having to sit in a desk all day.
Happy back to school season to all!
– Katherine Riolo
Greetings, Learning Expressions Readers!
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends. It seems hard to believe that it’s 2013 already—and a whole 361 days until next Christmas! Though it might surprise you to hear this, it’s not all that long after the holidays that we start thinking about what hot new toys will find their way into our catalogs (and onto kid’s wish lists!) next year.
In February, Learning Express owners from around the country will gather in New York City to attend Toy Fair. At Toy Fair, vendors from around the world debut and demo the latest and greatest toys and games—and our store owners and Home Office buyers scout the 350,000 square feet for products they think kids will love. If you got a chance to check out our list of Hot Holiday Toys from 2012, you will have noticed it included some of our favorite Toy Fair finds (like the Boogie Board) as well as some “Exclusive” Learning Express products. You probably already know you can find these products only at our stores, but I’m guessing what you don’t know yet is how they come into being. So today I thought I’d share that with you!
Well, it all starts with Sandie Paradiso who is a Home Office buyer as well as our chief developer-o- exclusives. Sandie has worked at Learning Express for 18 years now (including several years working in one of our stores). This week, I took some time to sit down with Sandie and find out more about how she goes about developing some of our exclusive products.
Kathryn: Thanks for chatting with me today, Sandie!
Sandie: Not a problem!
Kathryn: So tell us. How exactly does a Learning Express exclusive get developed?
Sandie: Well, we partner with vendors such as The Orb Factory, Creativity For Kids, and Alex for many of our exclusive products. To get things rolling, I usually approach them with a story board of ideas I’ve come up with and we decide together which ones we should collaborate on. They definitely take a leap of faith on these ideas, so I really commend them for working with us and being willing to try out our different ideas.
Kathryn: Well we’re certainly glad they do! What was the first exclusive you ever developed for Learning Express?
Sandie: One of the first products I developed was a Groovy Girl named Lexa. We came up with the idea that Lexa watched over children while they slept, so she came ready for bed in her pajamas and slippers. Lexa also had a little pillow that worked as a pouch. If kids had any worries or wishes, the idea was that they would write them down and tuck them inside the pillow—and Lexa would take care of them while they slept. This was something I did with my daughter Hayley while she was growing up so I liked the idea of incorporating that into Lexa’s story.
Kathryn: Do you find that your exclusive products often stem from your experiences as a parent, or even as a kid?
Sandie: Absolutely. I really draw inspiration from my kids and my own childhood when I develop these products. When I was a kid I always folded gum wrappers into chains and created jewelry and accessories with them to make a unique, fun fashion statement; years later I found myself developing a Candy Wrapper Jewelry Kit for Learning Express. A few years ago I also got an idea for one of my favorite kits from my son, Nick. In middle school he and his friends played a game that involved soda tabs and the initial of your future girlfriend, which for him was the letter “K”—and today his fiancé’s name is Kelly! He always kept that soda tab, and when they started dating he created a bracelet incorporating that soda tab in it…hence my inspiration for the Soda Tab Jewelry Kit.
Kathryn: That’s adorable. So do all your ideas for these kits come from your life experiences?
Sandie: Sometimes, but not always. I spend a lot of time looking at various trends, as well as experimenting with different materials. While doing some home improvement I was playing with electrical wire and came up with the idea for Get Wired. I try and think outside of the box and use materials that you don’t usually find in an arts and crafts kit, like the Tyvek you’ll find in our Wonder Wallet Art Kits this year.
Kathryn: And do you have a favorite Exclusive?
Sandie: I love them all, but if I had to pick a couple of favorites it’s got to be the Get Wired Jewelry Kit and the All Duct Out Kit.
(See below for the original story board for Get Wired!)
Kathryn: Excellent. And what’s your favorite part of developing exclusives?
Sandie: It’s definitely getting to see the finished product. I get so nervous when they hit the shelves in our stores—it almost feels like sending your kids off to school for the first time! I enjoy the process from start to finish, but hearing that kids (or even our bloggers!) loved creating one of the exclusives I’ve developed is one of the best feelings in the world.
Kathryn: So can you tell us what exclusives you’re working on for this year?
Sandie: No, Kathryn! But what I can tell you is that this year we will have exclusive products released in our May catalog. In years past, we’ve only been able to release exclusive products in our fourth quarter catalogs, so this is an exciting opportunity to get new toys into the hands of our customers earlier in the year. And I can give you a little hint. This spring you’re guaranteed to get soaked, reach new heights, find your sporty style, and flip (flop) out for our latest kits.
Kathryn: Well I’m definitely intrigued! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Sandie.
Sandie: You bet!
So there you have it readers! Next time you see an “Only Available at Learning Express” sign in our stores you’ll know how (and by whom!) those products were developed. And as soon as we have our new exclusives in May, we’ll be sure to review them for you on here.
Happy New Year!
Merry Christmas, all ye faithful Learning Express readers!
There are only three measly little chocolates left in our advent calendar...and you know what that means! The big day is almost here. For my kids, it really can’t come soon enough. I think they’ve almost given up hope that Santa will actually come. The wait to them has seemed excruciatingly long. I’m wondering, when do toddlers start to have a better grasp on time? Because telling them, “He’ll be here on December 25th, when all the chocolates have run out,” just hasn’t quite clicked for them.
It’s been a bit painful to see their daily disappointment as they look under the tree and find it empty yet again. Who knows though, maybe their joy on Christmas morning will be all the more pure after such a marathon wait. I’m telling you, these kids have earned those gifts this time around!
And yes, I’ll still be heading to the mall and braving the crowds this weekend. I have a few more people on my list to shop for. And I’ll certainly be taking some tips from the Top Toys list as I finally complete my Christmas shopping. This week’s reviews cover two more fantastic gifts that are only available at Learning Express and are sure to be a home run for that special child on your list!
Learning Express Exclusive! My First Scrapbook by Alex®
Four-year-old Mia was truly over the moon for this sweet scrapbooking kit. It includes everything kids need to make a custom, keepsake book documenting their life in their own style. It was really neat to see Mia take ownership of the project. She loved reflecting on her life and thinking back to all the vacations, birthday parties, school recitals, and holidays she’s experienced. It was amazing how much detail she actually remembered!
One tip for anyone overseeing this process: gather everything you need ahead of time. Print out those pictures sitting on your smartphone. Collect any memorabilia you think your child might want to include in the book (ie award ribbons, party invitations, movie ticket stubs, etc.). Write down details about events you’ll be covering in the scrapbook just so they are there and ready to go when your child gets to work.
The recommendations/directions have no words yet are very easy to understand, which is always helpful to parents. Mia was on the younger side for this kit yet still was able to fully enjoy and utilize it. A child even a year older could have managed this kit with very little oversight from an adult. Mia, however, did need help understanding that one page is all about her birthday party, and the next page is for her dance recital, etc.
But once she got the idea, she was off and decorating all on her own. She loved the stickers included in the set best. They were really high quality, and the kit contains far more than you could ever use. That’s always a plus, given that stickers are so prized among the preschool crowd.
The kit includes crayons and scissors, which I love because that means you could take the kit anywhere and have everything you need to get the job done. Mia, however, preferred to supplement the project with her own art supplies,and that worked great too. As a mom, I feel a lot of pressure to document my kids’ existence. And with two kids’ lives to keep track of, it always feels like I’m behind – scrambling to get the memories of these special years down on paper. The best part about Alex’s My First Scrapbook Kit is that it recruits your kids to help with this task and helps you cross one more thing off your to-do list. And boy do they delight in the process!
This is a winning gift for any preschooler or kindergartner on your list, and for their moms for that matter!
Learning Express Exclusive! Sparkle Skins by SparkeUps®
10-year-old Brooke devoured our next toy, Sparkle Skins by SparkleUp. It took me a minute to figure out the purpose of this gemmed wonder kit, but Brooke knew right away. She’d seen other kits by the company SparkleUps. Sparkle Skins are thick, reusable stickers that kids embellish with glittering rhinestones, and this particular kit is designed specifically to bedazzle tech toys of all kinds: smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc.
Brooke got to work sticking colored rhinestones one by one onto the stick-by- number designs. The first one she completed was a sparkling orange flower for her cell phone. Once affixed, the orange flower was very sturdily in place. I did manage to peel it off, however, just to make sure that it didn’t damage the phone. It peeled off cleanly, leaving the cell phone surface perfectly undamaged and amazingly leaving behind no sticky residue. We then put the flower back in place, and it stuck just as firmly as the first time around.
The Sparkle Skins kit includes 750 gems, enough to make 85 stickers. I love that the stickers are so fun to put together and are such high quality. If there’s a tweenie girl in your life who loves rhinestones and all things glittery, she’ll adore bedecking her tech toys with Sparkle Skins.
Thanks so much for reading. I wish everyone the best of luck with their holiday shopping. And when everything’s wrapped and ready to go, I wish you a blessed holiday with your family.
I hope these ideas have been helpful! Catch you in 2013.