Who needs regular keyboard lessons when thereâ€™s a six-foot keyboard you can play with your feet? Iâ€™m surprised by how little this mat really requires, from money to batteries. Itâ€™s only $39.95 and it takes four AA batteries. Thatâ€™s it, and itâ€™s ready to go. A lot of other piano mats cost twice as much, and they donâ€™t do that much more.
There are eight instrument sounds to choose from (with volume control), which is similar to some of the smaller handheld keyboards that used to be popular when I was a kid. I loved those things, and this version makes it just as easy to break things up and branch out beyond the piano sounds. Itâ€™s just more fun (and better exercise) now.
The Giant Piano Mat is more sophisticated than you might expect for a price under $50. You can record and play back your music, plus there are 10 prerecorded melodies on there, too. Itâ€™s simple enough for a three year old to use, but parents will love it, too. Kids of all ages will enjoy it.
Bonus: Itâ€™s made of soft plastic instead of something harder, so if your child falls while jumping from key to key making up his or her tune, thereâ€™s less to worry about.
Would you buy one of these for your kids or is your home too full of toys that make sounds?
Photo credit: Young Explorers
First, let me say that I canâ€™t really compare this to the older versions because I only played the 1960s one once or twice with a friend when we were kids. I do remember that it took forever to play, much like Monopoly, and it was almost as boring.
Weâ€™ve started trying to implement family game nights at my house so weâ€™d, you know, have to interact with one another instead of everyone going off to do their own thing when we werenâ€™t outside of the house. We went through all the games we could find in town that we didnâ€™t already have, wouldnâ€™t drive my husband and me nuts, only required three players, and could be fun for more than six months.
Finally, it boiled down to The Game of LIFE.
Internally, I cringed a little, but hoped Iâ€™d enjoy it more now that Iâ€™m older. I thought my daughter might like to play it just because her cousin does. Theyâ€™re funny that way.
My husband enjoys Monopoly, so LIFEâ€™s not exactly a horrible choice for him. He gets to be the banker. This isnâ€™t the version that keeps track of all of that for you, but it really isnâ€™t overwhelming either, even when I have to be the banker. We actually all really like this version.
In this game, you start out by choosing the college or career path. I donâ€™t really feel like there are enough career choices in either category. You have to get married, but you can continue on with the career path or have a family. You can choose to go to night school if you want, and then you can take a risky course or a safe one when youâ€™re getting close to retirement.
You can still buy and sell real estate along the way. The basics still seem to be about the same, but this version of the game seems to be set up to move much more quickly than the earlier versions. We can play in about an hour.
I think the faster pace is better for young children. This one is recommended for ages nine and up, but my five year old has no trouble staying engaged in the game.
The fast pace and the fact that itâ€™s a different game every time based on the choices you make and how lucky you are with the spins of the wheel make this fun and we do all enjoy it, but itâ€™s not without its flaws. The â€œtokensâ€ you have to put on the wheel are tiny little pieces of colored cardboard that get stuck under the plastic spokes in the wheel when you spin (if they donâ€™t just fly off completely). The wheel also gets stuck.
Thereâ€™s a lot to keep up with, but that was probably always the case. Itâ€™s easy to forget to collect your fees when someone lands on the number associated with your career, for example.
Overall, I think this version is much more kid-friendly than the others and itâ€™s not a huge time commitment the way some other games are. Itâ€™s not noisy or completely juvenile, and you have to use your brain to make decisions and count money.
Photo credit: Target
I’m not a fan of real puppies, but Zoomer is adorable. He can be trained to lay down, speak, sit, roll over, and play dead just like a real puppy, but he doesn’t poop, pee, or shed all over the furniture. That makes him a winner in my book!
Zoomer is appropriate for children ages 5 and up. However, since you have to train Zoomer to do tricks, I think he might be frustrating for younger children. My son would get the concept of training a dog now that he’s almost 9. But, when he was 5 or 6, he would have expected Zoomer to do everything you see in the commercials fresh out of the box.
Zoomer can understand English, French, and Spanish. For older kids, I think it would be fun to practice French or Spanish vocabulary words by teaching Zoomer tricks in another language.
Zoomer needs to be recharged by using the included USB cable. I’m not a huge fan of toys that need to be recharged this way, since I normally have a ton of other gadgets plugged into my USB ports. But, I suppose this method is preferable to having to constantly replace his batteries.
The original Zoomer is available at Walmart, Target, Kmart, Toys “R” Us, Amazon, and Kohl’s. For girls, there is a purple version with leopard print paws sold exclusively at Toys “R” Us. For boys, there is a varsity jacket version sold exclusively at Kohl’s.
What do you think of Zoomer? Would this be a toy you’d consider buying for your kids?
Photo credit: Zoomer
I love the Story Lines books as a gift idea for grandparents and godparents. Itâ€™s a set of books (you have to purchase them separately) with hard covers and cute storylines inside, but no pictures to go with them. The children get to read the story a few lines at a time and supply the pictures for them, so no two books will ever be the same.
Displaying artwork can take up a lot of space, but with a book full of it like this, the child will feel proud to have it tucked into a bookshelf or out on the coffee table instead of having his or her feelings hurt when not everything can be displayed on the wall or refrigerator.
The titles available are:
Each book is $9.95 and the shipping from Fat Brain Toys is $3.99 whether you order one or 20. I think itâ€™d be a cool idea to get a few of them at the beginning of the year and then have the child work on them until the holidays, then have them wrap them up as gifts.
Each book has 23 pages, so it could take a while if youâ€™re giving them out to several recipients.
Theyâ€™re recommended for ages five and up. That sounds about right, though a four-year-old who particularly loves art and trying to read would probably do just fine.
Photo credit: Fat Brain Toys
My daughter and I are both into art, and “Starry Night” by Van Gogh is one of my favorites, so I was really excited to see this kit on the Fat Brain Toys website.
Apparently a lot of other people love it, too, since it was one of the winners in the 2012 Fat Brain Toy Awards. Based on the graph on the site, this is ideal for kids around age six or seven, but I could see the range stretching a little further, maybe five to nine.
This isn’t a paint-by-number type of kit where you’re given directions to follow in order to make a near-perfect copy of the original, down to colors used and the placement of those colors on the page. Of course, if you or your kids want to make your version look a lot like the original, it’s possible. However, this one allows you to take “Starry Night” as inspiration and then take your own creative twist on it.
You can roll out the color at first with the standard roller or the Van Gogh one that’s meant to replicate his style. This lays the base down (layering is encouraged!). You can then use the stencil to get the basic shapes that make up the original painting. From there, combine the acrylic paints and oil pastels any way you’d like.
In addition to the acrylics (three colors), oil pastels (five colors), stencil, and rollers, you get two pieces of deluxe art paper, a box with a magnetic closure to keep everything in, information about Van Gogh and his art, an instruction sheet, and a sticker sheet with stars. The kit is $29.99.
Photo credit: Fat Brain Toys
Candy necklaces were one of my favorite treats as a child, so I love this crayon version from Kikkerland. Instead of gnawing on your necklace, you can color a picture with it!
The crayon necklace features red, orange, white, green, blue, and pink crayon beads. It sells for $11 and ships in two to three business days.
This would be a fun gift for any kid who loves to draw or a great party favor for an artist-themed celebration. However, you’d have to be sure that the child wouldn’t confuse it with a traditional candy necklace and try to eat the beads.
My son didn’t believe he could really eat the beads on a candy necklace the first time he received one, but I suspect he’d be tempted to take a bite out of this crayon version unless I specifically told him not to eat it.
If candy necklaces aren’t your thing, other cute crayon themed products from Kikkerland include:
What do you think of these novelty crayons? Which design is your favorite?
Photo credit: Kikkerland
In my town, there is a local magician that performs at various county fairs and festivals throughout the summer. My son has seen this guy’s act at least 10 times, but it never seems to get old. His favorite trick is always when the magician pulls the white rabbit out of his hat.
If your child is also a fan of magic, this adorable rabbit puppet would be great for role playing at home. The puppet features a white rabbit inside a black magician’s hat. Your child can make the rabbit appear to come out of the hat by slipping the puppet on his hand and saying the magic words of his choice.
Most magic-themed toys for children can be hard for little ones to operate, but a puppet is a foolproof hit. Even if your child can’t figure out how the magician is making his assistant appear to be sawed in half, he can easily do his own bunny trick with this puppet.
If you give him a magic wand and a cape, he’ll feel like a real superstar.
The plush puppet is recommended for children ages two and up. I started buying puppets for my son around his second birthday. He’s eight now and still loves them. So, I think this is something most child would get a lot of use out of.
You can buy the rabbit puppet on the MoMA website. It is $22 for nonmembers or $19.80 for members. The puppet, like many other children’s toys, is eligible for a flat rate $6.95 shipping fee.
Photo credit: MoMA
As a lifelong crafter, I’m a sucker for projects that encourage kids to tap into their creative impulses. I like this shield kit from Kid O because you end up with a customized wooden toy that can provide hours of role playing fun for kids who want to pretend to be knights fighting dragons and other deadly foes.
The kit includes a wooden shield, several different acrylic paints, and paintbrushes. The shield measures 14.6 x 13.4 x 2.8 inches and is divided into four quadrants. Your child is supposed to draw something that represents him in each quadrant. This could be anything from a favorite animal to a favorite sport.
Complete instructions and shield design tips are included with the kit, but I’d suggest having your child sketch out some possible designs on scratch paper before starting to work on the actual shield. I’ve learned the hard way that my son will come up with an idea and change his mind halfway through. So we don’t have to buy replacement paint for kits like this, my rule is that he has to show me a sketch of his idea before he gets to paint the actual project.
Acrylic paints are permanent and may stain some fabrics. It’s smart to have your child wear old clothes and to cover your work surface with newspaper or a drop cloth before you start painting.
The Kid O shield kit is manufactured in New Zealand and recommended for children ages five and up. You can buy the design your own wooden shield kit on Fat Brain Toys for $39.95. An optional gift bag is available for $1.95.
Photo credit: Fat Brain Toys
I ran across this archery set and thought, “Wow, I wouldn’t be so afraid for my windows if we had this!” My daughter has another archery kit, and while she loves it and it goes with her whole Merida costume, I’d love to have a target set up instead of, well, the windows (the arrows have suction cups on the ends so that’s one place they’ll stick) now that she’s stronger and has much better aim.
This set is neat because it has four arrows with suction cups on the ends, a bow, a quiver, a target, and a red laser that helps with aim.
I can see that being kind of annoying for parents and cats alike once aiming at the target gets old for the child (or their aim is so good they don’t need the laser anymore) and they start pointing it in different directions. In that case, I guess you can just take the batteries out. (By the way, the batteries are actually included with this.)
The bow looks to have a similar setup as my daughter’s Brave bow, complete with something to rest the far end of the arrow on so it’s easier to shoot straight.
It looks easy enough for kids around five or six to use, but possibly not much younger than that because they may not have the dexterity or strength necessary to make it work (this set will help improve that, but it takes at least some hand and upper body strength and coordination to get started).
This set is designed for ages six and up, and costs $59.95.
Photo credit: Young Explorers