Showing posts with label Product Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Product Reviews. Show all posts

Nov 3, 2014

Toys That Have Endured

Are you thinking about Christmas gifts yet? I am...and as I look around our house, I realize that even though most of the things my children have received as gifts haven't endured, some gifts certainly have. My children play with them over and over again.And I'm betting yours will, too.

Geotrax

I don't think I've ever met a kid who doesn't like train sets. But by far the best train set for children is, in my opinion, Geotrax. Why? It's easy to put together, the tracks don't fall apart easily (yet they are still not hard to take the tracks apart), it's durable, the remote controls are simple to use - and it's just plain fun! We started out with a basic set purchased at a toy store, then added additional tracks that I found used on Ebay. All the Geotrax stuff is interchangeable, which is another excellent feature.

Pattern Blocks Puzzle

At my house, puzzles generally get put together once or twice, and then my kids aren't interested in them any more. But this puzzle set is something both my children continue to use. When young, my kids use the picture boards that come with the set. Later, they use the blocks to create their own designs. I've even used this set for homeschooling - to teach geometric shapes and for symmetry lessons.


Wooden Blocks

If my kids could only have one toy, I'd make it a set of blocks. Toddlers love them. Gradeschoolers love them. Even tweens love them!

Legos

This classic building toy is a must have for any child who likes to build and create. At this point, we've stuck mainly to the larger style Duplo blocks (the ones just one size down from "regular" Legos); this seems a bit more manageable when pick-up time comes along.

Magna Doodle

My kids love Magna Doodles, even though they have plenty of access to paper, pencils, crayons, and pens. The cool thing is, Magna Doodles require none of these, and are perfect for taking in the car, to doctor's offices, or on road trips. My kids have literally worn theirs out after years and years of use!

Felt Calendar

Both my kids learned their days of the week, months of the year, seasons, years, and more about numbers by using a felt "calendar." There's something about the set up of this thing that kids love! (TIP: I used simple songs to teach the days of the week and the months of the year alongside our felt calendar. My preference is "There are Seven Days a Week" sung to the tune of  "Clementine" and "These are Twelve Months of the Year" sung to the tune of "Ten Little Indians.")

Puppets

Of all the toys my kids use for pretend play, puppets are the most enduring. We have finger puppets, hand puppets, and even a simple marionette we found in a thrift store. They get used nearly every day, by both children.





Be sure to also check out our family's favorite board and card games.
 

Nov 27, 2013

My Family's Favorite Board and Card Games | Best Board and Card Games for Kids

Of all the toys you can buy for children, games are really some of the very best. Children tire of them far less quickly than other toys (assuming they are great games), they last for many years, they can help bring families together (game night is our favorite night!), and they offer a lot of good learning experiences. That's why I'm always delighted when my children receive a game as a gift.

If you're thinking of some new games for your children - or someone else's - here are some we particularly enjoy. All of these games are rated as an A by both my children and myself.

Games for Little People

Busytown
My children, ages 5 and 8, adore this game, and we've been playing it for about a year now. As far as first board games goes, this one is tough to beat. This game features a very large (6 foot) and sturdy game board with a classic Richard Scarry Busytown scene. Just looking at the board is fun for kids, as they see downtown Busytown, the countryside, and even the shore, with all of Scarry's cute animal characters working and playing. The goal of the game is for each player to meet up at a certain spot so they can ride the ferry together and get to the picnic before Pig Will and Pig Won't eat all the food. Along the way, Goldbug may come along and ask players to find as many things (like balloons or fire hydrants) as they can. The more everyone finds, the more everyone can movie forward to the ferry.

Skills required: Simple counting of squares on a game board. I often helped my son with this when he was younger, but if your kids can count well and follow a path along a game board, they can play this game independently. Also, if you have young kids, you know that sometimes competitive games can be a challenge. Busytown is a good introduction to board games in part because players work together toward a common goal.

Age recommendation: 3 (with help) to 8.

Uncle Wiggly
Back in the 1910s and 20s, there were some popular children's stories with a character named Uncle Wiggly. This game was created around that same time, but doesn't require that your children know the original character or stories.* The game board is heavy and beautifully printed. It shows a winding path along lovely scenes - with some unhelpful creatures (like an alligator and a fox) along the way. Each player moves his piece along the board, following directions on a card he's just drawn. The goal is to be the first to make it to Dr. Possum's house for tea.

Skills required: Counting of squares on a board game. Reading isn't absolutely required, although the cards do offer cute little rhymes on them. If your child can read the numbers of the cards and count spaces on her own, she can play this game independantly.

Age recommendation: 4 to 7.


Candyland
This is a classic game every child should own. The goal is to travel along a winding path in Candyland (a place with such fun things as a rainbow bridge and a licorice forest) and be the first to make it to the candy castle. Players draw a card with either one or two board squares of a certain color and move to the nearest square of that color.

Skills required: Children must know their colors and be able to follow a game board path. Children must also be able to count to 2. For players who are new to board games, parental help is required. Otherwise, kids with these skills can easily play this game independantly.

Age recommendation: 3 to 7.


Go Fish

I don't think there's a better first card game than Go Fish. Each player begins with a small number of cards (which most kids can hold in one hand without much trouble). Each player then tries to find as many matches as she can, asking each player: "Do you have a [type of fish]?" Other players either answer "Yes" and give their opponent the appropriate card, or they say "Go fish," and the player asking the question must draw a card from the pile. The player who puts all her cards down as matches first wins.

Skills required: Being able to match alike cards. If children can't read the names of the fish, they can just describe the type of fish, or (when not playing the game) memorize their names. Kids can easily play this game on their own.

Age recommendation: 3 to 8.



Games for Slightly Older Kids (starting at about about age 6 or 7)

Uno
This is a card game everyone in our house enjoys. The goal is to be the first to get rid of all your cards. The game begins with one card facing up in the middle of the players. Each player must then try to remove one or more cards from their hand and put them on top of that card by matching color, number, or function. Things that make this game fun include cards that skip other players, reverse the direction of play, make players draw additional cards, or change the color to any the player desires. There are several variations on this game, so be sure you're just buying the classic card set, as seen above.

Skills required: Children should be able to hold a number of cards in their hands. (Although I have sometimes given my daughter a large egg carton to hold her cards in.) Players must also be able to recognize all colors and numbers. If they can do this, independant play is quite do-able.

Age recommendation: 7 to adult.


Connect 4

The goal of this two person game is simple: Be the first to get four of the same-colored discs in a row. Rows can run horizontally, vertically, or at an angle. Players take turns inserting discs into the plastic game piece to either create their own row or block their opponent's. This is a great game for teaching children to think about other players' strategies. And once your children master playing the game this way, there are directions for making the game different and more difficult.

Skills required: Children must be able to count to four and recognize rows going horizontally, vertically, and at an angle. (If they can play Tic-Tac-Toe, they can play Connect 4.) Once they master these skills, kids can play this game without parental help.

Age recommendation: 6 to adult.


Jacks

A good, old fashioned game of jacks teaches kids motor skills and strategy. There are many ways to play this game, but the most basic is this: A player tosses the jacks on the floor. She bounces the small rubber ball once, catching it while simultaneously picking up one jack. The next time, she tries to pick up two jacks. The next time, three, and so on. This game may be played alone or with 2 players.

Skills required: Counting and motor skills.

Age recommendation: 7 to 10.


Sorry
The goal of this game is to get all your pawns "home" before anyone else. Each player moves forward by drawing a card and moving their pawn the presented number of spaces. Sounds simple - but other players can send you back home, trade places with you, and so on. May be played with 2 - 4 players.

Skills required: Counting. Also, it's important to be able to read some of the cards, because they may actually tell you to move backward so many spaces, instead of forward.

Age recommendation: 7 to adult.


Chinese Checkers

This game board is made with indentations for marbles to fit into. Each player has his own color of marbles and tries to move them forward to their opponant's part of the board. Marbles can only be moved one space at a time, unless your own or other player's marbles can be jumped over. The first person to move all his marbles into his opponant's position wins. For 2 - 4 players.

Skills required: This game tests your child's spacial understanding. Children must learn to stategize their positions to get where they want to go as quickly as possible.

Age recommendation: 7 to adult.

Twister


No game makes my children laugh as hard as Twister. Technically, it is neither a card or board game - unless you can count a large plastic "rug" as a "board." The "rug" has dots of several colors on it. One player uses a spinner to tell the other players to put a particular limb (hand or leg) on a particular color. This continues, with players unable to move a limb from it's former location unless the spinner tells them to. The results are hilarious as kids bend into all kinds of strange positions and get twisted into each other. The winner is the person who is last to fall.

Skills required: Color recogniation and knowing the right from the left.

Age recommendation: about 6 to adult (Younger kids can play, too, but it's much more difficult for little people to stretch across the "rug" to reach the appropriate colors.)

Yahtsee


Technically, this isn't a board game either - but Yahtsee is too fun not to include on this list. Each player rolls a set of dice and tries to get either as many of one number as she can, or combination of numbers. Each play earns a particular number of points and the person who finishes getting all the combinations and gets the highest score wins. Like Uno, there are a lot of variations on this game, so be sure to get "Classic Yahtsee."

Skills required: Basic adding skills, plus an ability to read dice. Parents can help with the adding.

Age recommendation: about 7 to adult.



Be sure to also check out this post about what toys my kids play with year after year after year.

Jun 2, 2011

Helping Dawdlers

My 5 year old is a Dawdler Supreme; I have never seen a child dilly-dally as much as she does. If you have a child who makes you pull your hair out because he or she dawdles, here are some thoughts:

* Remind yourself (repeatedly!) that teaching your child to get a move on is going to take years.

* Keep the big picture in mind. During those times when all you want to do is yell at your dilly dallier, pray instead - while remembering the ultimate goal is not to upset my child or make her feel bad, but to help her learn the joys of being punctual.

* It doesn't help to give a lecture on dawdling when you're in the midst of trying to hurry up your child. Instead, find a relaxing few minutes later in the day to discuss why it's important not to dilly dally. Talk about the negatives of dawdling, sure, but end with the positive effects of getting things done in a timely fashion.

* Ask yourself whether you're expecting too much. Is the thing you want your child to do age appropriate?

* Break down the steps for your child. For example, if I ask my 5 year old to get dressed, she gets overwhelmed and doesn't know where to start. But if I stand nearby and talk her through the steps one at a time, she can handle it. Yes, there are definitely times I need her to do something without my help, but I before I can do that, I must break the task down into steps a few times.

* Help your child become a problem solver. When you're not in the midst of trying to rush, sit down with your child and discuss one area where he or she repeatedly has trouble with dawdling. Ask your child to come up with come up with solutions that either you or your child can implement.

* Sometimes dawdlers just flat need more time. For example, if your child takes forever to get into bed, maybe you need to start the bedtime routine earlier in the evening.

* Offer motivation. For some kids, this might mean withholding reading time, television, or other fun stuff until the task is completed.

* Give your child a checklist. If your child is too young to read, simple pictures showing tasks like brushing teeth or getting dressed will do the trick.

* Make it a race. Some kids respond well to competition, so you can say something like, "Whoever gets dressed first gets to [insert special reward here]!"

* Help your child recognize cause and effect. Sometimes saying something like "I see you've changed your clothes before 7:30. That's great! Now there's time for us to sit down and read a book together." Other times, you might have to gently say, "It's already 8:00. No time for a book this morning."

* Teach kids clock awareness. Help your child become aware of the ticking minutes by saying things like, "It's 12:30. That's lunch time." And "It's 1 o'clock. Lunch is over." Another great project is to give your child a stop watch and a list of activities (like "toast a piece of bread," "prepare a bowl of cereal," and "feed the cat") and help him or her time each one. Most dawdlers have a bad sense of how fast time passes, and activities like this can make them more aware of time moving.

* Help your child notice time passing - without nagging. Say something like "You have 5 minutes to get your shoes on." At 4 minutes, say, "You only have 1 minute left, hon. If your shoes aren't on in 1 minute, we're going outside without you." It's important not to yell. Or repeat.

* Use a timer or - better yet - the Time Timer. The Time Timer (pictured right) has a red section that allows children to easily visualize how much time they have left. My daughter responded exceedingly well this little clock and we've have pretty good results with it. I even use it for her homework; for example, I'll give her a set of math problems, set the Time Timer to a reasonable time limit, and tell her to "beat the clock." My only real complaint about the Time Timer is that my daughter wants to use it for everything - even simple tasks like washing her hands, which is not normally an issue for her.

What have you done to help your dawdler?

Bookmark and  <br>Share

Jul 27, 2010

No More Dryer Sheets

Since I began reading The House That Cleans Itself, I've been thinking a lot about how my house sometimes works against me. For example, I've always used dryer sheets, but I have a tendency never to throw them out afterward. I can't find them in the dryer, and when I fold the clothes, somehow the dryer sheets always end up on the floor or caught up in the blankets. Not only does this make for a mess, but it drives my husband crazy.

Enter the Bounce Dryer Bar. This little do-dad comes with a small plastic holder that has a sticky back so it adheres to the inside of the dryer. Then what looks a bit like a bar of soap slips into the holder. The manufacturer claims it will last between 2 to 4 months, on average, depending upon the bar you buy. (The bars come in 2 month and 4 month sizes.)

I began using the Dryer Bar about 5 months ago and have refilled it once. It works just as well as dryer sheets, has stayed stuck to my dryer, and is super easy to refill. I also like having one less step (adding a dryer sheet) to the chore of laundry. And...no more dryer sheets that need throwing away!

Some friends have expressed concern the bar might leave grease stains or something similar on clothes left in the dryer. This hasn't been a problem for me, and I often leave a load of laundry in the dryer over night.

The Dryer Bar does have a pretty strong scent at first; some people might not like that. The scent left on clothes is like any other dryer sheet. One time, the bar fell out of it's holder, but it slid back in place easily, and I've never had that problem since. My only real complaint is I can't seem to find just the refill bar. Every time I need a refill, I have to buy the Bar and the holder, which seems wasteful.

I have not kept track of how many loads I can run through each bar, so I can't tell you if it's a money saving device. I just know it's make keeping my house a little bit easier.




Nov 12, 2009

Swiffer Magic for Children

I've never had a Swiffer mop before; I like sponge mops, and I've always thought the disposable nature of the pads used on the bottom of the Swiffer wasteful. However, my four year old has been begging to mop the floor.

Don't laugh! It's true!

She loves to help around the house, and often vacuums, dusts, and cleans windows with me. There were several things that concerned me about her mopping, however. I always put my cleanser in the kitchen sink, but she can't reach the kitchen sink. I considered getting a bucket for her, but know her well enough to realize she'd spill cleaning fluid everywhere. I also wasn't super-keen on her dealing with a bucket or sink of disinfecting cleaner; she tends to put her hands in her mouth and eyes a lot. Finally, I knew the mop was too tall for her. I considered cutting down a handle for her, then padding it with cotton and covering it with duct tape or something, but I really wasn't satisfied this was a good answer.

Enter the Swiffer with wet pads. It's super-lightweight and the handle actually comes in several parts that easily snap together. This made it simple to adjust just to my daughter's height. Since I, the parent, can place already-damp, thick, textured paper on the bottom (in place of a sponge), there was no worry about liquids spilling or about her touching cleansers. It seemed a great solution.

So I spent about $9 on the mop itself, plus about half that for 12 pre-moistened pads you throw away after each mopping. (Please note, we are not using the Swiffer Wet Jet, which squirts liquid onto the floor. We are using the traditional Swiffer with wet refills.) When my daughter saw her mop, at first she was disappointed. She said, "Oh. It's a toy."

I explained that no, it was a real mop for grown ups - it was just a little different from the one mommy usually uses. This cheered her. Then I showed her how to use it, and off she went! I could hardly get her to stop mopping, and she kept checking the disposible pad and saying, "Look at all the dirt I'm cleaning up!" She asked to mop about five more times that day. (I replied, "No, once a day is enough. You can do it again tomorrow.")

I have to admit the pads are expensive. I make them last longer by rinsing them with water from time to time, during the same mopping. This doesn't seem to reduce it's cleaning abilities (which are surprisingly good). Yet while I still wouldn't use a Swiffer for myself, I consider it a good investment for the children in my life - at least until they can handle an ordinary mop.

Bookmark and Share

Oct 16, 2009

Footed Sleepers Review

Here's a product I highly recommend: Snugabye "covert-a-foot" jammies for babies and toddlers.

Traditional footed pajamas are great, but throughout much of the U.S., they are too warm for all but the coldest nights. On the other hand, Snugabyes work great all winter long. My family also uses wood heat, which means our living room (which is nearer the stove) can get really warm while the bedrooms stay cool. With Snugabyes, I can dress the kids for bed and allow them to play a while, then put them to bed snug and warm later.

That's because the foot on these jammies literally covert. To leave your child's foot uncovered, simply roll up the foot into a wide cuff. To cover your child's feet, roll the cuffs down (much like many winter baby outfits allow you to roll down a "mitten" for your child's hand) and you have footed sleepers with slip-resistors on the bottom. It's ingenious!

The jammies last a bit longer than traditional footed pajamas, too. Worn without the feet in place, your child can grow several inches taller without outgrowing of the PJs. And for about $7.50 to $9, that's a good bargain.

Bookmark and Share

Oct 7, 2009

The Self Cleaning House

Unlike the Proverbs 31 woman, nor indeed most middle class women from ancient times through the early- to mid-20th century, I do not have even a single servant. That means common household chores eat up a lot more of my time than they did my ancestors. Which means I shouldn't beat myself up too much when I can't seem to achieve a truly clean house.

Yes, I want a pleasant home my family loves being in. Yes, I want the house organized enough it doesn't cause frustration. No, I don't want it to stay so dirty it's unhealthy. But caring for my children, being a helpmeet for my husband, and running a part time business (which is a need, not an option) take up most of my time and are more important than vacuuming and dusting.

That said, I love a clean and tidy house. So does my husband. So in my efforts to achieve something like a clean house, I've discovered that (in some cases, at least) the house can be self cleaning. Truly!

Here are two products I've tried that promise to make houses "self cleaning." Consider whether they could lighten your burden and give you time for other, more important efforts.

Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner

My husband has his own bathroom; it's just off our bedroom and much too small for us both to crowd into. Before we had children, I kept it sparkling clean for him, but after our daughter was born 3 1/2 months early, I needed to cut down drastically on household chores; the bathroom became his to deal with. But my husband doesn't clean, and his shower stall quickly became a filthy mess.

So I bought this automatic shower cleaning kit by Scrubbing Bubbles. I began by cleaning his shower the old fashioned way, then hung the plastic bucket-like device over the shower head and asked him to push the button once after each shower. The results were amazing! I no longer have to clean his shower!

Later, I bought one for the bathroom I share with the kids, which has a tub/shower combo. The cleaning kit doesn't work quite as well there; I still have to clean the bathtub and shower from time to time - but I do it less frequently than I used to. (Just remember to rinse the tub with some water before giving the kids a bath, even though the cleaning solution is described as "less harsh than other shower cleaners.")

The refills are about $4 dollars (for a single clear bottle that sits in the plastic bucket device), but while the manufacturer says they last only about 21 days, I find ours lasts a bit longer, even when used daily. You only need to use the cleaner after the last shower or bath of the day. The batteries need replacing about every six months or so. For our household, I find this expense well worthwhile.

There are also ways to cut the cost of refills - although they are of course not recommended by the manufacturer. For example, over at Instructables, a writer describes how he refills his shower cleaner kit with shower cleaner from the Dollar Store. Other brands of cleaner may not work as well, however, may corrode the shower cleaner kit, and are probably much more harsh.


Roomba
When I read there was a robotic vacuum requiring no help from me except to turn it on, I was skeptical, but intrigued. For years, I read reviews on the Roomba vacuum, and finally my husband (a gadget guy) asked for one for Christmas. We love it!

I make sure toys are picked up off the floor, my husband sets the little devices that prevent the machine from going where you don't want it to go, and one of us turns the thing on. Then we leave the room (to, for example, watch a DVD together at the end of the day) and let the Roomba work. The machine detects when the floor is clean (our model works both on carpet and vinyl or wood) and turns itself off. There's even a separate remote-like device you can buy to schedule the Roomba to clean when you're not at home.

Because I don't always have the energy to pick up the house at the end of the day (so we can run the Roomba), I still do some traditional vacuuming. But back when we had only one child and pick up was easy, we used the Roomba every day, and I never had to pull out the "big vacuum."

The Roomba uses a rechargeable battery pack and other than replacing this every few years, requires no more ongoing maintenance than any other bag-less vacuum.

Bookmark and Share