Chrismukkah is over at our mixed-marriage residence. Please ignore those lingering decorations. It’s time to call out just a few of the Santa (and Hanukkah) successes of the 2012 Holiday season.
Disney Apples To Apples – Surely, you have played the adult-targeted version of this game at a party or two – possibly under the influence of an adult beverage. “Disney Apples To Apples” down-ages this word association game so the whole family can participate and integrates pictures from almost every Disney property – including Parks, Pixar, Princesses, and tween TV. We have been playing this non-stop since Hanukkah and has become an instant favorite for our 6-year-old.
Star Wars Princess Leia Fashion Set – Most parents of Disney Princess-loving girls have spent much time helping dress the rubber-dressed, Polly Pocket-esque Disney Princess mini- figures. This Disney Parks “exclusive item,” also available on Amazon, gives Princess Leia the Disney“fashion set” treatment with a slew of clothing and hairstyles from different ‘Star Wars’ films. No matter how hard those rubber clothes are to put on, I will gladly support my 6-year-old’s interest in this property.
Lite Brite LED Flatscreen – Lite Brite lives on! A staple toy of my 80’s, this toy has been downsized to an era-appropriate “LED Flatscreen.” It still comes with the same multicolored pegs we know and love (yet hate to step on) as well as the black slip-in sheets to create designs.
LEGO® DUPLO® Creative Cakes – My two year old loves two things: Getting her hands in my older daughter’s LEGO Friends and celebrating birthdays – fake or not. This DUPLO kit keeps her away from her big sister’s creations while letting her have some birthday make-pretend play at the same time.
Melissa & Doug Slice and Bake Cookie Set – This playset lets kids “bake,” “decorate,” and “serve” cookies. My children have had their eyes on this toy since seeing it at a friends’ house, and I was happy to add a solid wooden toy set to the mix.
MindWare Pattern Play – Nothing beats some offline, old-fashioned block play. The Pattern Play set comes with 40 rainbow-colored blocks to assemble. Just choose a pattern card design to replicate and fit it into the wooden tray. While I am sure there is an “app for that,” it is nice to see my daughter disconnecting from the screen for a while.
Cinderella Toddler Doll – My two-year-old can often be seen swaying through the house warbling her rendition of Cinderella’s “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” in her sister’s flashing “glass” slippers. So, yeah, she loves her Cinderelly. Instead of a Barbie-style doll, Santa brought her a larger-sized Cinderella Toddler Doll. While it may not exactly align with the story – Cinderella wasn’t exactly wearing her crown and blue dress as a toddler – I don’t think that is going to stop her from carrying it with her everywhere she goes.
LEGO Friends Adventure Camper – The LEGO Friends argument is played out at this point, but my stance is “if it gets my girls into the LEGO brand, I am down.” This was one of the most enjoyably intricate sets we have built, and temporarily left last year’s camper-gift-from-Santa (Barbie Sisters Family Camper) in the dust.
Journey Girls Wheelchair and Crutch Set – The rite-of-passage know as American Girl Dolls has fully infiltrated our house. It’s a great to have brands like Journey Girls that offer cheaper 18” doll accessories. This wheelchair and crutch set has been a hit on the block and a central part of our daughter’s American Girl playtime since Medical Orderly Kriss Kringle delivered it December 25th.
Fisher-Price Little People Disney Princess Songs Palace – Fisher-Price’s classic Little People brand meets the ubiquitous Disney Princess brand in this musical dollhouse-style toy. My two-year old has already spent hours with this toy, warming up for her eventual full-fledged Disney Princess obsession.
At Nugget Island, we love unique goods for kids, and it doesn’t get any more unique than handmade. The zanimals are cute stuffed critters made of knee socks and other new & recycled clean materials, stuffed with 100% polyester fiberfill. The zanimals were brought to life by Suzanne Pollack, a Boston-based artist from my childhood hometown who I have known since she was collecting stuffed animals of her own.
Each zanimal is handcrafted with their own little back-story, name and personality, making for a one-of-kind experience for each child (or adult). According to “artist, animal lover and knee sock wearer” Suzanne, “making these cute critters allows me to combine my extreme love of animals with my desire to play with texture, pattern and color. Because my zanimals truly are filled with love, you will feel their souls when you look into their sweet button eyes.” Also, 10% of each zanimal purchase will be donated to an animal charity.
Check out Suzanne’s Etsy shop and meet some of her latest zanimal creations. Any one of her latest critters would be an excellent one-of-kind gift for the holidays. Below are a just few to check out.
CONTEST: Help name Suzanne’s new product line – and win a pair!:
Suzanne has just launched her zanimal ornaments / mini-monsters and needs your help naming them! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestion(s), and you might win two. Check them out here. Please note: We cannot guarantee usage of your “winning” name. Contest ends 11/30
Admittedly, I did not get to spend too much time at Toy Fair. I was in attendance for the sister Engage event, so I only got a few hours to peruse the Toy Fair floor to seek out things that were of personal interest. Below are just a few of the items that caught my attention along the way. If you want a truly deeper dive, I recommend sources like Toy Directory or Out With The Kids. In the meantime, check out a handful of Nugget Island picks below.
Creativity for Kids’ Shrinky Dinks Fairy Garden
Maia recently discovered the joy of Shrinky Dinks. However, she usually discards them after they have done their shrinking thing. So, the idea of being able to use the ‘Dinks’ after baking and shrinking them caught my attention. Each Shrinky Dink turns into a little fairy that can be played with in a 3-D cardboard garden.
Creativity for Kids’ Playful Pets Nesting Dolls Kit
What is it about nesting dolls that appeals to kids of all ages? Add a DIY art twist, and they go beyond being simple novelty items. This Nesting Doll Kit lets kids paint and sticker their own wooden dolls using non-toxic, acrylic paint.
Curious Chef 6 Piece Fruit & Veggie Prep Kit / 16 Piece Cupcake and Decorating Kit
Sometimes Maia gets tired of playing kitchen, and wants the real thing. I was on the lookout for a company that makes safe, tangible, and cute-looking kitchen tools for kids. These ergonomically-correct kits offer both ends of the culinary spectrum. First off, they guarantee some fun with healthy fruit and veggie preparation. And, being realistic, there is also some sweet tooth-satisfying kitchen fun with a cupcake decorating kit.
Not only does this British company create a unique, safe bike that aims to teach children to ride at a young age, they create it with solid birch wood. This bike aims to be as easy on the eyes as it is to ride. Pictured is the Classic Series in natural color. Love those flames!
eebee’s Adventure Play mat & Activity Play House / Music and Sound DVD
We love eebee in our house. This dreadlocked puppet was a must-watch in Maia’s first few years, and we looked forward to introducing our newborn to this property some day. This brightly-colored, transformable mat/ playhouse will be the perfect place to do just that. Meanwhile, we will be sure to get our hands on the newest DVD in the eebee line, “Music and Sound.”
Pinkalicious Licensing Mania
Like many little girls, my daughter is quite smitten with the Pinkalicious properties. Walking into the Fundex booth, I was surprised by all of the card and board games being released under this property. A great way to get the little one excited about offline analog games, titles included licensed versions of Scrabble Jr. and UNO as well as original titles like “Pinkalicious Pinkarella Lunchbox Game.”
PPW Toys’ Wizard of Oz Mr. Potato Head Set
These classic childhood toys, as well as Toy Story stars, get the ‘Oz’ makeover with this new licensing deal. Part collectible toy, part child plaything, I have yet to make up my mind if the ‘Oz’ Potato Head Set will be a future “daddy collectible” or a gift for the kids.
Playmates Toys’ Michael Jackson 10″ Collector Figures
For those who have turned their youngsters on to MJ, here’s the chance to collect (and/or play) with the late King of Pop. Set for release in the Spring, the series includes “Beat It Michael,” “First Moonwalk Michael,” “Thriller Michael,” and the “Billie Jean Michael.” (Excuse my terrible photo, better ones here!)
AMAV’s Chocolate Coin Press
We could be getting our gelt on next Hanukkah thanks to this Chocolate Coin Press from AMAV/Diamant. I loved the idea of getting Maia involved in the process of making the gold-wrapped chocolate coins from scratch – all done using a small “mint” machine.
Dunecraft “Pirate’s Cove” / “Mermaid’s Growing Grotto”
I have been a long-time admirer of Dunecraft’s science-themed garden and plant kits. Their down-aged Pirate’s Cove and Mermaid’s Growing Grottos get kids in the growing dome game, with two plant kits targeting both genders.
Mezco’s DC Mez-Itz Wonder Woman
My daughter has gone Wonder Woman crazy so I was on the lookout for anything featuring this Amazonian princess. While many toys featured a sexed-up version of the superhero, this pint-sized designer toy was cute and collectible.
P’Kolino Safari Collection - Tree Table with Animal Chairs
This company makes beautiful products with an eye for modern design, and this wooden table set is no exception. This brightly colored set is made of solid wood and features chairs shaped like animal silhouettes.
P’Kolino Multi-Solution Owl Shape Puzzle
Another small sample of what this company can do with design. Check out their site and get ready to start your P’Kolino-only playroom.
Putumayo Coloring and Sticker Books
Our favorite world music label expands on their product line with a series of coloring and sticker books based on their trademark artwork. Each uniquely-illustrated set features the animals, instruments and people of that geographical location.
NECA Coraline Licensing
Another beloved property in our house, I was excited to see all the licensed toys being offered from NECA. Their “wall of Coraline” included items like a collectible lunchbox, throw pillow, and assorted PVC toys.
Disney Princess Squinkies
Disney Princess Squinkies bring together an evergreen property with the current collectible craze. Guaranteed to breathe extended life into the pencil topper trend, these new sets will come in packs themed around each princess.
Workman’s Wizard of Oz Scanimation: 10 Classic Scenes from Over the Rainbow
The creators of the “Scanimation” style books that were brought to life in best-sellers Gallop! and Swing! are journeying down the yellow brick road with this licensed edition. Iconic Scanimation scenes include Miss Gulch transforming into the witch, The Scarecrow doing his famous dance and the ruby slippers clicking together.
Workman’s Papertoy Monsters Book
Despite my lack of Origami talent, I am still obsessed with the papertoy trend – the Internet phenomenon that has some of the coolest designers creating DIY toys. This book brings together 25 papertoy designers from around the world to create Origami-style monster toys for kids to create at home.
Tonner 15” Disney Princess Dolls
At around $200 a piece, these dolls are not made for the hands of your young princess fan. But they are beautiful collectibles and are worth calling out for the adult fan. Maia loved looking at the pictures alone and promised “not to break them if we bought one.”
Tonner 22” Wonder Woman Doll
This showcase piece was wowing all who passed it in the aisle. At $350, this is for serious collectors and hardcore Wonder Woman fans. Regardless of price, Tonner’s attention to detail and quality cannot be denied.
RoomMates Decorative Peel & Stick Products
Peel and stick wall decals continue to replace wallpaper and posters as a popular way to liven up a child’s bedroom. RoomMates have wisely locked in the leading licenses, giving them the advantage in this crowded market. Brands and characters from Disney, DC, Marvel, Star Wars, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network are just some of the decals you can purchase. Plus, there’s this pretty cool Where the Wild Things Are set.
Batman x MIMOBOT USB Flash Drive Collection
Why buy a boring old Flash drive when you can get one in the shape of your favorite Batman character? Loaded with desktop wallpapers, icons, avatars, and screensavers, these storage drives come in the shape of Batman, Robin, Catwoman, or The Joker.
Boston-area company Gamewright has been churning out creative, quality games for kids and families since its foundation in 1994. Creators of familiar and reknowned titles like Slamwich, Rat-a-Tat Cat, In a Pickle, and the Scrambled States of America, Gamewright creates refreshingly low-tech games with a focus on interaction, learning and fun. The company has gone on to create over 70 games and win enough awards to fill a neighborhood of mantels.
One of their current efforts that caught my attention is the Gamewright GameNight program. A GameNight is essentially a fundraiser event, where a school, community organization or non-profit gets together for a night of gaming. All games played at the event are Gamewright titles, with money raised by selling games at the event. This program started in 2005 as a small pilot program but has since raised $130,000 in funds for over 200 schools and organizations in the United States.
As their PR and marketing rightly claim, Gamewright titles are certainly excellent for bringing families and groups of people together, making an effort like GameNight a no-brainer. The company recently sent two titles to my own family for review. Their arrival was perfectly timed, as we had a house full of out-of-town guests and Maia (now almost 4) was ready to play, play, play.
Feed the Kitty is a simple dice-based-game where players try to keep their mice game pieces away from the kitty’s dinner bowl. Reinforcing counting skills and “visual discrimination,” this title is easy-to-understand for the younger set with fewer pieces to lose. While Feed the Kitty was an instant hit, the soon-to-be-released Take the Cake held Maia’s interest even more. In this title, players simply shake the play cupcake and try to match the multicolored shapes that fall out to shapes printed on various cupcake-designed cards. Beyond reinforcing color and shape skills, Maia also had fun with the cupcake pretend play – mock munching each card after filling it in. Both titles come in trademark Gamewright packaging, featuring bold colors and humorous illustrations. Feed the Kitty and Take the Cake were both for ages 4 and up and easily held Maia’s attention while keeping the adults amused as well.
As a final thought, I am in no means an anti-technology rebel. I love my iPod, Kindle, latop, and Blu-ray player and silently crave an iPad. But stepping away from the technology and playing a back-to-basics offline game provides a certain all-encompassing bonding experience that doesn’t involve multi-media, multi-tasking or online muti-gaming. Test out one of Gameright’s titles for your family or even plan one of their GameNight events, and rediscover some ‘analog’ fun for yourself.
I was recently quite surprised to find out I had some family members and friends who allowed their children to have profiles on Facebook. Checking out the Facebook policy, it is quite clear that this not a social network that wants children under 13 as members. For obvious reasons that can be hashed out on your nightly news show, an open social network may not be the best place for children.
Since Maia is only three, it will be a while before she pops me the “Can I sign up for Facebook?” question. However, for parents dealing with that issue now, a site like FaceChipz.com may be a good solution.
FaceChipz add some color to the endcaps
Described as a “secure social network for kids” or “social networking with training wheels,” FaceChipz integrates most communication and sharing features that make Facebook so popular, but only allows kids to communicate with people they have exchanged a FaceChipz token with. Simply purchase a 5 pack of Facechipz at stores like Toys “R” Us, and then register each colorful, emoticon-decorated token online with a unique code. Once the code has been registered, the “Giver” passes each token to a “Receiver” friend who also registers online and confirms the friendship. The token’s code is then invalid so no stranger can be part of the online network. The site also integrates a basic game mechanic with the tokens where each one has a point value attached to it when registered. As for site registration costs, there is a one-time validation cost of $1, simply to prove parental approval.
The features that are sure to appeal to burgeoning social networkers include customizable profile pages, instant messaging, photo sharing, status updates, mood indicators, a “Secret Message” box, an “About Me” section, “My 11′s” list maker and a personal FaceChipz collection viewer. Upcoming features promised include virtual gifts, games, more profile customizations and new FaceChipz token concepts to collect.
FaceChipz was created by parents of tweens who were more comfortable with the idea of their children participating in a closed, safe social network. So, in true entrepreneurial spirit, they created one. On top of working in accordance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, the site creators have a bulleted list of Safety & Privacy Highlights to make you feel comfortable allowing your children on the site. (Read more about the experienced management team here.)
This company is still in its early stages and the site is in beta phase, but I look forward to seeing it grow so that when I do get that inevitable question, I can go pick up a few brightly colored chips and hand them over. Or, if the company has truly been realized by the time and Maia is interested in interacting online, she will instead be asking me for her first pack of FaceChipz.
FaceChipz code for entering
Tween-friendly profile design