Don’t Know Much About…

Whether you call it the “summer brain drain” or the less-catchy “summer slide,” the sad fact is that most children forget a lot over the summer. According to the National Summer Learning Association (http://www.summerlearning.org/), “students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.” Low-income students do worse than their middle-class peers. The result is that, on average, teachers have to spend the first 3-6 weeks of the new semester reviewing the previous year’s material instead of teaching new material. This week, we review several products that will put a plug in that brain drain.

 

super genius - multiplication super genius - 5 gamesSuper Genius (Blue Orange Games)
Super Genius is a collection of five very clever games that are designed to be used at home or in school to help early elementary age children learn, review, and master basic math facts and sight words. The basic platform is the same throughout: match something on one card with something on another. With the math games (Addition and Multiplication) about half of the card have five equations (2+3, 2×4) and the other half have five numbers. With the word-based games (First Words, Reading 1, and Reading 2) half the cards have pictures and the others have words. We’re not sure how they did it, but there’s always one match between any cards in the two decks. Each Super Genius game comes with instructions for how to play five different matching games. Some require memory, some speed, some both. What’s especially nice is that the names of those games and the basic rules are the same in each set. So kids will be able to move from reading to math and back again without having to learn new rules. All games can be played with 1-6 players. The reading games are targeted to kids 5 or 6 and up, and the math ones for 7 or 8 and up. And all take a maximum of 15 minutes to play. Prices ranges from about $8 to $14 at your favorite retailer. Or visit http://www.blueorangegames.com/

 

talking USA puzzleTalking USA puzzle (Discovery Kids)
Every year we hear the results of surveys that show that American school children can’t find China, Iraq, India, or most other countries on a world map. That’s bad enough, but the real shocker is that a lot of Americans (some estimates go as high as 20%) can’t even find the U.S. on a map. And if they can’t locate the country, they’ll have a really tough time identifying individual states. The Talking USA puzzle will definitely help with that. There are two components: The largest is a colorful puzzle with pieces that are shaped like each of the states (although a few of them combine some of the smaller east-coast states). Push on the state and you’ll learn its slogan, capital, and a fun fact. The other component is the USA Fun Fact Map that has a visual hint for each state and a series of statements. The object, of course, is to match “This ‘Pine Tree’ state produces 99% of all the blueberries in the country” with Maine. Although this puzzle is theoretically for kids, geographically challenged grownups will learn plenty. (At the very least, people on the coasts will be able to stop saying, “somewhere over there” when asked to identify a state on the opposite coast. Although, in defense of the West, some of those East Coast states are really, really small.) Batteries included. Comes with a pull-out storage drawer to keep the pieces from getting lost. About $30.

Minions and Dinos: Separated at Birth?

At first glance, you wouldn’t think that Minions and dinosaurs have very much in common (aside from being the subject of summer blockbuster movies). But they’ve both been around since the dawn of time. In fact, according to the story, Minions evolved long before the dinos did. If the success of those movies is any indication, both will be around for another hundred million years or so. Here are a few of our favorites.

minion kevin storage chestMinions Movie Kevin Storage Chest (Jakks Pacific)
When playtime’s over, it can be a real chore to get the kids to help put their toys away. One approach that tends to make things easier is to turn clean-up into a game. And Jakks Pacific’s new Minions Storage Chest is just the ticket. The chest itself is a giant (well, 20 inches high) Kevin, decked out in his denim overalls and gloves. But despite his size, he manages to retain his cuteness (and what would a Minion be without cuteness?). Pop open his head and your kids can stuff Kevin with all of their other Despicable Me and Minion Movie toys and gear. Or they can use the inside shelves to display things in a more organized way. But either way, those slightly crossed eyes and wry smile make him hard to resist. Ages 3+. $54.99 at Amazon and other retailers.

minion beach partyDespicable Me Minion Beach Party set (MEGA BLOKS)
We’ve already established that Minions are cute .But how’d you like to take a crack at designing your own? Well, now you can. MEGA BLOKS has a whole series of delightful mini-scenes that feature Minions in a variety of environments. The Beach Party set includes one Minion, a beach blanket, parasol, plant, table, glass, and an ice cream cone. But by far the coolest feature is that all the pieces of the Minons are interchangeable, meaning you can swap their shorts, goggle, arms, feet, and accessories. Want two eyes, a hula skirt, a Mohawk, and a crown? Easy. One eye, a winter coat, a pirate bandana, and a sword? Okay too. Ages 5+.  https://kids.megabloks.com/en-us/toys/despicable-me-minions

dino silicone molds habaDinosaur Silicone Cake Mold (HABA USA)
Getting kids into the kitchen—and giving them something productive to do—has always been a challenge. But these silicone molds from HABA will get even the most reluctant food preparer interested. This cute silicon T-Rex mold lets little kids get in on the Jurassic craze, even if they’re afraid of big dinos. And who could be afraid of a smiling T-Rex—especially when she’s made of cake? Comes with booklet with three easy-to-make recipes. Ages 4+. $19.99 at http://www.habausa.com/

Dinosaur Parade Silicone Chocolate Lollipops Mold (HABA USA)
If you’re into baking, your favorite cupcake recipe (or one of the ones in the included booklet) will let you make adorable, fun cake pops. But if you’re looking for a way to cool off, you can just as easily use these molds to make adorable, fun popsicles. And what’s especially great about these silicone molds is that whatever you make pops out incredibly easily and leaves almost no mess behind. Ages 4+. $11.99. http://www.habausa.com/

interactive t-rex animal planetInteractive T-Rex (Animal Planet)
Tyrannosaurus Rex was a 40-foot-long, eight-ton package of vicious, carnivorous ferociousness. But this Interactive T-Rex is anything but ferocious. Yes, he roars, swings his tail and his head, stomps his feet, gnashes his teeth, and his eyes light up. But if you scratch him in the right place, he purrs. Touch somewhere else, and he snores, burps, or farts. And if you touch two places at the same time, well, we’re not going to give that one away. Ages 3+. Available at Toys R Us.

Coming to a Screen—and Living Room—Near You

This summer, there are so many kid-friendly movies and TV shows out there that you’ll undoubtedly be spending lots of time in theaters. And there are even more movie-themed toys so you can keep the fun going when you’re away from a screen. Here’s some of what’s hot right now.

avengers hulk gloveAvengers
With several superhero movies still in theaters and more to come (Ant Man, for example), there’s no shortage of Marvel characters for you and the kids to “become.” The new Marvel Avengers Age of Ultron line lets you dress up as Hulk, Thor, Captain America, or Iron Man. Gear includes masks (which typically have large eye holes and are big enough for most kids), gloves, and other accessories (one of the Iron Man Arc FX Armor gloves lights up just like the “real” Iron man’s). Unfortunately, there are no Black Widow costumes, which makes it harder to get girls interested in superheroes. Not to worry, ladies, your day is coming soon… In the meantime, the male characters are still a blast. You’ll find everything you could ever want in the aisles of Toys R Us and Target.

paddington plusPaddington Bear
Whether your family are long-time fans or just discovered Paddington thanks to the new movie, your little ones will want a Paddington of their own to snuggle up with.  YoTToy makes an absolutely adorable plush  who comes in several styles and sizes; one even has his own suitcase and marmalade sandwich.  You grab the book, the kids grab their stuffies, and everyone settles in for a nice, long story.  Available at http://www.yottoy.com/home.html or stores like Barnes & Noble.

 

 

sonic hedgehogSonic the Hedgehog
The first generation of Sonic came out when you were a kid, but he’s back with a new TV show (“Sonic Boom”) and a video game of the same name, so your kids can fall in love with him as well.  To get your off-screen hedgehog fix, check out the new Sonic the Hedgehog Tails Plane ($29.99), which comes with a moving propeller, flashing headlights, engine sounds, and an ejector seat to send Tails to safety. It also comes with a Tails figure and the required batteries (which last a really long time). And don’t forget abot the cute Sonic the Hedgehog Interactive Chili Dog Plush ($29.99).  Sonic’s favorite food is chili dogs (you knew that, right?), and he needs to have one with him at all times. This 15″ Sonic the Hedgehog Plush says 10 different phrases and operates in three different modes: talk, run with me, and chili dog. When you (the parent) need a break, you can turn the sound off. Whew.

jurassic legoDinosaurs and All Things Jurassic
If your child is a builder and likes dinosaurs, he or she will love the new Jurassic World LEGOs. Kids can recreate scenes from the new movie or, if they aren’t old enough to be obsessed (yet—but it’ll happen soon), they can always just use their (gasp) imagination. Raptor Rampage is one of our favorite sets, and comes with three mini-figs, two raptors, vehicles, tons of accessories, and more ($50).  Pteranodon Capture is the least expensive set, and comes with helicopter, dinosaur, two mini-figs, and more ($20). http://shop.lego.com

lionel dinosaur dieselWhile it’s not specific to Jurassic World, Lionel’s Dinosaur Diesel Set is a wonderful way to support your child’s dino habit and spark—or deepen—an interest in trains. These ready-to run set comes with a locomotive, LionChief remote, freight cars, a caboose, several colorful dino eggs, dino figures, enough track for a 40”x40” circle, and a power supply. Available everywhere; prices vary widely.

Parents@Play Review – Mix Up! Fix Up! from Wonder Forge

mix up fix up woinder forgeMix Up! Fix Up! (Wonder Forge)
A fun logic and memory game for preschoolers. Players take turns being the patient. Without showing any of the other players (doctors), the patient takes an “x-ray card” that has eight pictures of different medical tools (stethoscope, syringe, thermometer, etc,) on different backgrounds (dots, checkerboard, hearts, flowers, or stripes), with different colors, and slips it into an x-ray sleeve, which has a window that shows only one tool. The doctors then flick a spinner which tells them to either guess a pattern, color, or tool. For every wrong answer, the patient gets a bandage. Most bandages wins. It’s kind of like Clue. But instead of Colonel Mustard in the parlor with a knife, it’s the stethoscope on the yellow background with stripes. 2-6 players ages 3+. $15.99. http://wonderforge.com/

For more toy and game reviews, visit Parents@Play.

Parents@Play Review – Hey Froggy! from R&R Games

hey froggy r&r gamesHey, Froggy! (R&R Games)
Too many frogs and not enough lily pads. Life’s like that sometimes, isn’t it? The good news is that, unlike the rest of life, the frogs can pile on top of each other. Roll the dice to bounce colored (red, blue, yellow, green) frogs around the pond, scoring points when the frogs on the top match the colors of cards in your hand. You’ll need a little luck and a little strategy—extra points if you’re able to eat some flies along the way. It’s fun and quick (15-20 minutes). For 2-4 players ages 10+. $15.95. http://www.rnrgames.com/

For more toy and game reviews, visit Parents@Play.

Parents@Play Review – Compose Yourself from ThinkFun

compose yourself thinkfunCompose Yourself (ThinkFun)
Every once in a while game comes along that is completely unique. Compose Yourself is one of those games. Open the box and you’ll find 60 transparent, coded music cards, each imprinted with a musical staff and four beats worth of notes. Since they’re transparent, you can arrange each card in four different ways (there’s nothing on the cards to indicate a “right” side). Now comes the fun part. String together any four cards to create a unique composition (there are apparently over a billion possibilities). Then, go to the Compose Yourself website, enter the codes, and you’ll hear your composition played by a full symphony orchestra! If you’re happy, download an mp3 or print out sheet music. If not, re-compose and try again. Besides being tremendously fun, this is a great way to expose children to music and/or to teach music reading. Ages 6+. $19.99. http://thinkfun.com/

For more toy and game reviews, visit Parents@Play.