Building a Childhood

Kids and building go hand in hand: Make it bigger, higher, better, greener—whatever strikes their fancy that particular day. Not only are building toys a good time, but they‘re also great for parent-child bonding, and have been shown to improve motor skills, hand-eye coordination, social skills, cooperation, creativity, spatial skills, and more. No wonder we love ‘em so much!

play doh minionsPlay-Doh Disguise Lab Featuring Despicable Me Minions (Hasbro)
Sometimes we all feel like minions. But what do minions do when they want to feel like someone else? Enter Play-Dough Disguise Lab. Just put your minion into the hair styling chair (one purple minion, one yellow minion, and chair are included) and give him as many silly and crazy hairstyles as you’d like. Your child will have so much fun with this, and you will too. You can trim their hair, choose different colors, and even make things that Minions love like ba-na-nas. The kit also comes with scissors (not sharp), a comb for styling, and four cans of Play-Doh. With the Minion movie coming out this summer, this Play Doh kit will be even more popular. About $18 at Toys R Us and other retailers.

 

 

 

lego batman penguin3 LEGO DC Comics Batman: The Penguin Face off
LEGO, of course, are great building toys. With a dizzying number of sets and sizes to choose from, there’s something for every kid (and every parent) to play with. “LEGO DC Comics Batman: The Penguin Face” off lets kids recreate and act out their favorite superhero moments. In this kit, the goal is to help Scuba Batman bring justice to that diamond-stealing, umbrella-wielding waddler, Penguin and his minions (no, not the yellow ones—this villain’s minions are robot penguins). The kit comes with Batman and Penguin (and two minions) mini-figs, the “diamond,” a ton of weapons—including Penguin’s umbrella, and all the ingredients to build Batman’s scuba vehicle and Penguin’s duck boat. Penguin and the duck boat appeared in the recent movie “LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League.” The title is quite a mouthful, but it was pretty funny, and a good flick for the whole family (especially all those LEGO and/or Superheroes fans). If your child isn’t into superheroes and prefers something a little more “real,” take a look at the Swamp Police Starter Set, which comes with four mini-figs, an alligator, boat, raft, “hideout” spot, and quite a few accessories, including a spider, snake, handcuffs, walkie talkies, a shovel, and more. Ages 5-12. Batman is about $13, Swamp is about $10. http://shop.lego.com.

bun bunBun Bun! (The Bridge Direct)
If you think that all building toys have to be blocks or bricks and have hard edges, you need to meet Bun Bun. These cute, cuddly (and collectible, of course) animals were created to be stacked and piled up. Stacking plush toys have already created a splash in Japan and other countries, and they’re just now hitting the US markets. Bun Bun combines two things kids love: building and animals which is great. Better yet, both boys and girls we tested Bun Bun with loved them and couldn’t get enough. The first wave of characters includes Kit Kit (Cat), Moo Moo (Cow), Pup Pup (Dog), Shu Shu (Monkey), Bit Bit (Mouse), Pip Pip (Pig), Bai Bai (Polar Bear), and Bon Bon (Rabbit), and they come in four sizes: mini (4”) small (7”) medium (10”) jumbo (16”). But regardless of the color, size, or animal, Bun Bun encourages kids to be creative and get their engineering on. For all ages. Prices range from $5 to $20. http://www.bunbuntoys.com/

Some Assembly Required

Building systems come in a huge variety of styles, shapes, materials, and levels of difficulty. This week we take a look at several of them—one traditional, one non-traditional, and two that offer a new twist on the classics.

Playmobil zoo & aquariumTake Along Zoo & Aquarium (Playmobil)
Happy 40th birthday to Playmobil! Playmobil sets are always well made, colorful, and fun to play with—what could be better than that?—and this one is no exception. What makes the Zoo & Aquarium especially unique is that it’s great for both indoor and outdoor play. It comes with trees, pools, fences, and quite a few animals (such as zebras, giraffes, lions, fish, walrus), as well as “human” caretakers. That’s a lot of pieces for one set. And there’s room for a few more, just in case your child wants to invite some other animal friends over for a visit.  When you open up the kit, one side is the zoo, the other is the aquarium, which your child can actually fill up with water and let the sea creatures (and the rest of the animals—hey, giraffes swim too) take a dip. When playtime’s over, all the pieces fit easily into the case, which (after you’ve drained and dried it) folds up for storage or easy transport. Retails for $49. http://www.playmobil.us/

nintendo captain toadCaptain Toad: Treasure Hunter (Nintendo)
Nintendo’s Mario games are kind of like Oprah, who made Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz so famous that they got their own show. Similarly, Nintendo has given quite a few Mario stars their own games. These include Yoshi, Luigi, Princess Peach, and now Captain Toad. What’s especially interesting about the Captain is that he has no particular super powers—not even jumping. He just walks, runs, and has a real knack for finding gold coins, turnips that can be used to defeat enemies, and even a blockade-busting pickaxe. He’s also something of a genius when it comes to putting things together to solve puzzles.  Captain Toad is a game for the whole family. Kids will like the simple controls and easy mechanics of the game, and adults will appreciate the puzzles and the challenges required to collect all the treasures. Captain Toad retails for around $40 and is available everywhere video games are sold, from the Wii U eShop, or at http://captaintoad.nintendo.com/

light staxLight Stax (Light Stax)
From a distance, Light Stax look like Duplo (Lego’s jumbo size bricks for preschoolers), but connect at least one Stax block to the power base, and every other block that’s connected—directly or indirectly—will light up. The base, which can run on batteries or a USB cable, has enough juice to light up at least 100 blocks. Stax are compatible with Duplo (but only the Stax blocks illuminate), but our favorite feature is the auto-shutoff, which means your child can build a completely new nightlight every night. Stax come in sets from 12 blocks to more than 100, and prices run from $35 to $250. http://lightstax.com/

 

klutz lego chain reactionLEGO Chain Reactions (Klutz)
If you liked the classic game Mousetrap, you’ll love Klutz’s very clever LEGO Chain Reaction book. The motto is “Teach Your Bricks New Tricks,” and by incorporating ordinary LEGO elements and a few other ingredients, that’s exactly what happens. What’s the point of doing ridiculously simple things like tossing a gum wrapper or bouncing a ball in one step when you can do it in 20 or 30 steps using levers, pulleys, ramps, hammers, string, tires, and funnels? An engaging, entertaining, and educational activity for the whole family. Comes with 30+ Lego elements and instructions for building 10 Rube Goldberg machines. Retails for around $20. http://klutz.com

Look, It’s Moving by Itself!

Most kids (and plenty of parents) like to build—forts, castles, towers, model airplanes, and more—which explains why there are so many products out there designed to help us do just that. They range from simple wooden blocks and kits that show us how to construct all sorts of cool things using objects that we have around the house, to the most complex building sets. There’s a wonderful sense of accomplishment that one gets from stepping back and looking at a completed project. Most of the time, though, that’s about all you can do with it. But there’s a special thrill that comes from seeing whatever you’ve built come to life: electrical projects that turn lights on and off, radio kits that receive real broadcasts, and, of course, anything that moves. This week we’re taking a look at two very different construction sets that will provide hours of parent-child entertainment, both during the actual assembly process and afterwards, when it starts to move.

Runners (Laser Pegs)
laser pegs robot parents@playLaser Pegs has a variety of products that take Lego-type building to a whole new level by adding lights that flash, blink, and generally make what you’ve build look very cool. But in their Runners line, they’ve added motion. Runners come with fewer than 30 pieces, including the battery-operated base that powers the lights and the wheels. Besides making cleanup a little easier, that also makes construction quicker—15-20 minutes after opening the box, you’ll have a colorfully lighted tank running around your floors. The step-by-step instructions are easy enough to follow that even young builders will be able to take charge. The kit we tested lets you build six different moveable vehicles. But the possibilities are truly endless. There are plenty of additional suggestions on the company’s website, and Runners are also compatible with other building sets, making them infinitely expandable. The package says that Runners are “for boys and girls ages 5 and up”—a very smart move and we hope will encourage a lot more girls to see building as not being only for boys. Retails for $14.99 and is perfect for ages 5 and up. http://www.laserpegs.com/

14 in 1 Educational Solar Robot Kit (OWI Robotics)
OWI robotIf you’re looking for a more challenging construction experience, this is it. The 14 in 1 Educational Solar Robot Kit is exactly what it claims to be. You can build 14 different robots, the intricate moveable parts make it plenty educational, and it is powered by the sun, so no batteries required. It’s also incredibly fun. But you’ll need to be patient. Very patient. Each of the molded plastic pieces (I lost count at about 200) has to be clipped out of a plastic frame. And you’ll need to look very closely at the illustrated instructions to make sure all the components are facing the right direction before putting them together (if you get something wrong—and you probably will—not to worry: you aren’t using glue and the pieces snap together and unsnap pretty easily).

OWI robot assembly parents@playThe 80+ page manual has instructions on how to build each of the robots, including a dog that wags its tail, a running beetle, a walking crab, a zombie chaser, a turtle, and even a boat that actually operates in the water. The 14 robots come in two levels of difficulty, though the entry level projects are still challenging enough that it took a highly skilled 10-year old builder and her dad more than an hour to put one together. Ages 10 and up. Retails for $31.95. http://owirobot.com/

Mr. Dad and GreatDad.com Announce Spring 2012 Award Winners for Dad-friendly Products

Mr. Dad and GreatDad.com announce their Seal of Approval winners for Spring 2012. Today’s dads are involved in every aspect of parenting and a growing number of companies are developing products with dad’s unique style of parenting in mind.

The Mr. Dad Seal of Approval and GreatDad.com Recommends awards identify products that promote interaction between dads and kids. Trusted by some of the toy world’s biggest brands including Lego, Haba USA, and the Magic Schoolbus Series, the combined awards recognize products and services that help strengthen and empower families, and help strengthen and empower families, and help fathers create memorable, enriching experiences with their children.

“With limited resources and support devoted to fathers, it’s more important than ever to recognize and champion products and services that promote positive parenting and demonstrate a commitment to helping fathers become the parents they want to be,” said Armin Brott.

A panel of dad experts judged products and services based on whether they:

  • Improve the quality of father-child time
  • Improve father child relationships
  • Help dads be better parents and partners
A special emphasis was put on toys and games that bring the whole family together and which dads really will want to get down on the floor and play. “This is especially important for dads (and moms) returning from military deployment and who are going through what is often a tough transition to becoming a family again,” says Banas.

The full list of winners is here.
Info on the Seal of Approval is here.

 

Mr. Dad and GreatDad.com Salute Fathers and Families with This Spring’s ‘Seal of Approval’ Picks

Super Mario Brothers for Wii, “Checklists for the New Dad,” and Faces iMake, among Father’s Day 2010 GreatDad Recommends Award and Mr. Dad Seal of Approval Recipients

San Francisco, Calif. (PRWEB) June 5, 2010 — Fun-loving fathers and families seeking ideas for Father’s Day activities this year are in for a real treat. Presented by Mr. Dad and GreatDad.com, the results of the Fathers Day 2010 GreatDad Recommends and Mr.Dad Seal of Approval awards are in. They include an exciting lineup of games, toys and resources that will involve dads and kids, and make spending time together even more exciting and memorable. [Read more…]