Toy Blog - Toys, Parenting, and Kids

New ThinkFun Educational Toys for the Holiday Travel

Zingo! 1-2-3 Zingo! 1-2-3 - What better way to build a child’s reading and counting skills than with Zingo! 1-2-3, the newest game in the award-winning Zingo! product line. With Zingo! 1-2-3, players must match their numbered tiles to their corresponding challenge card. The first player with a full card wins the game by yelling “Zingo!” Two levels of play focus on counting and addition. WINNER! 2010 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award; 2010 National Parenting Center Seal of Approval! Buy Now

Zingo! To Go Zingo! To Go - Now you can take Zingo! zaniness on the go! Everything you love about original Zingo!, now in a fun, portable package. Just shake the Zingo! Zoomer car to expose the two dice. Got a match? Turn over the corresponding stop light on your game board. The first player that turns over a completed Traffic Light wins! With no loose pieces and a snap-together game board, this Zingo! is designed for family fun on the go! For ages 4 and up and 2 to 9 players. Learning Skills: Reading and Spelling, Memorization, Matching Skills. Buy Now

Solitaire Chess Solitaire ChessIf you like Rush Hour, you will LOVE Solitaire Chess. Solitaire Chess is a single-player logic puzzle that uses traditional chess moves on a 4×4 game board. Players exercise sequential reasoning skills as they plan ahead to eliminate all but one piece. Buy Now

Zig-Zag Knot Zig-Zag KnotThis “cousin” of Gordian’s Knot is elegant but cunning. Untangling Zig-Zag Knot is not as easy as it looks! Slide each piece in the correct sequence of 37 moves to take Zig-Zag Knot apart. With every move you make, one or more pieces will move easily —but there’s only one right answer. It’s up to you to determine which move is the right one! Included solution guide shows complete solution as well as full instructions for putting Zig-Zag Knot back to its original form. Brainteasers can help boost intellectual skills that can bolster the mind in the same way that physical exercise protects and strengthens the body. Buy Now

Visual Brainstorms Visual BrainstormsAt home or on the go, this whimsical stack of cards keeps minds of all ages thinking “fun.” More than 100 zany visual puzzles, logic problems, mazes, math challenges, encoded messages, and more will test and amuse players for hours. Great for solitary or competitive group play. Visual Brainstorms offers solutions to each problem—plus Bonus Questions on every card for twice the fun and challenge. Learning Skills: Abstract Thinking, Problem Solving. Buy Now

TipOver TipOverNominated for Specialty Toy of the Year in 2006, the sky is the limit with this game. Players set up their game board to match the challenge card and then must create a path to the red crate by using the red tipper man to tip over the blue, yellow, and green crates. All without allowing the Red Tipper Man to jump over any crate – or touch the game board. Players must choose each move carefully, because every action influences the next. Learning Skills: Spatial Reasoning, Problem Solving, Strategy Development. Buy Now

Alternative Activities on Vacation

Are you looking for something different to try on your annual trek to the beach this year?  Want to find a new venue in that sleepy town you love to visit each summer?  Try some of these out on your next vacation, and perhaps these will spark new ideas as well! 

  • Sometimes, the weather simply doesn’t cooperate with us when we go on vacation (okay, a lot of the time).  So, we’re always on the hunt for a local library.  Libraries are great places to hang out and read, check out local programs, and even find out about other activities in town.
  • While my kids love to hit the souvenir shops at the beach, our favorite places when visiting somewhere out of town are more local shops.  My kids love to explore new stores, even grocery stores!  It is a great way to get out and see something new, even if it is “just a grocery store”!
  • Look for local parks.  We have many visitors in our hometown who come here simply for our amazing parks department.  Not everyone is blessed to have such a system, but most places do have playgrounds and other places to let off some steam and just “be”.  See if there is an elementary school with a playground nearby as well (be sure school isn’t in session, though!).
  • If you are going to a major attraction, consider matching clothing or hats for the family, even if it is simply the same color.  Make sure it is something easily spotted (like red, yellow or orange) and that everyone is aware of it!  Keeping up with younger kids in a large area is stressful enough – make them easy to spot and track down!  And, try to hit big amusement areas as early as possible.  The earlier you get started, the more you will get to see and enjoy.  Our favorite plan is to play hard early and enjoy a late lunch.  Then, while my 3 year old naps, my older son enjoys the pool and activities around our hotel or camp area.  We finish off the day with dinner and more fun activities.
  • Purchase a local newspaper to find out about farmer’s markets, craft or hobby shows, and any other local activities that might be of interest.  These are events that will probably be lots of fun, but they might not be easily publicized for those other than the “locals”.  Our town has a great bike shop – yes, bike shop!  It is a wonderful place to go in and browse with all of the interesting configuations for bicycling.  It is one of the most popular stores in town.

What are some of your favorite tips to find new things to do in your favorite vacation spot?  Leave a comment and let us know!

Prepping Your Vehicle For Summer Fun

We tend to spend a great deal of time on the road during the summer, whether it is on our bikes or in the car.  Being prepared for all this travel, across town or long distances, is a slightly different approach from the rest of the year.

SUNSCREEN!  My kids spend the majority of their summer outside the house, so sunscreen is a given each day.  Try to remember to apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside.  If you are bike riding, this is especially important because you might not realize just how much sun you’re getting as you pedal around town.  Follow the instructions on the bottle and lather up as necessary.  Sunscreen isn’t a seasonal item; while the sun might not be as intense in the winter as it is in the summer, sunscreen should be used year-round.

GET GERMS UNDER CONTROL!  I always carry a disposable box of wipes in my car, especially in the summer months.  No one wants to eat ice cream after playing in the sandbox at the park, and when a place to wash up isn’t readily available, I can always count on the wipes to do the trick.  They are great for cleaning up spills in the car, too!

BE PREPARED FOR STORMY WEATHER!  I have a small bag in my trunk with my “essentials” for bad weather: umbrella, a disposable rain parka, bottled water, and “dry” snacks, such as pretzels and crackers.  In addition to things for bad weather, I also carry a towel, a spare change of clothes for the boys, and a first aid kit.  As much running and playing as we do during the summer, we make sure we are prepared for whatever comes our way!

Have Time, Will Travel

We’re hitting the road this summer, making the rounds to the grandparents and other relatives along the way.  It will be just my boys and me as my husband will be toiling away at his desk job.  Which means, it will be Me versus Them in the loooooooong car ride to Grandma’s house.  I’m going into this challenge armed and ready!

If you will be road-tripping this summer with your family, take a look at some of these great tips to make it a bit more bearable for everyone.  And, if you have any of your own to add, please leave a comment and let us know!

  • Pack smart.  While consolidating space in my sedan is important, I do pack an extra bag of just the essentials – a change of clothes for everyone, perhaps a bathing suit, our toothbrushes, anything we might need for just a night.  Then, instead of having to trudge our huge everyone-packed-in-one-bag suitcase around, I simply pull out the smaller bag if we need to make an overnight stop.  In our larger suitcase, I do manage to pack all of our belongings together.  The key is to “layer”…place each item in an outfit in a pile, then pack backwards through your vacation.  That way, the items on top are the things you’ll need once you reach your destination, and each day following that should be the next on top.  This eliminates “the dig and throw” method that my boys usually have!
  • Since I do drive a mid-size sedan, indoor space is at a premium (we downsized from a mega-SUV last year).  To eliminate in-car clutter, my boys are both issued a backpack the day before we leave.  They are allowed to bring whatever will fit in the backpack, and nothing else.  If they want a special blanket or stuffed animal, it has to fit into the backpack.  If a certain toy is important enough to make the journey, it has to fit into the backpack.  Want a snack on the road?  It has to fit into the backpack!  That way, my boys only bring the things they REALLY want, and it elminates a lot of the “extras” we used to bring but never touched.
  • On the longest leg of our journey, I try to provide something new for the boys.  While a small toy (like a little car) is okay, I try to find something different than what they are accustomed to: for my older son, this might be a word find book and a new cool pen.  For my toddler, perhaps a small spiral notebook and crayons (or if I am really adventurous, I stock up on “party favor” toys and use those).  They get to take a break from the other stuff they brought, and I get a break from the “are we there yet” chants – hopefully.

What are some life-saving tips you have for travelling with kids?  Let us know!

Spring Break Road Trip!

We’re staring a day-long car ride square in the face right now…and that’s just one way.  We’ll repeat the process again after a couple of days of Grandparentdom.  My panic-personality decided to rear her ugly head during dinner tonight…what will we DO with two boys, in the SEDAN, for hours at a time, to keep them from a) maiming or killing each other or b) driving the adults to an insane asylum?  Do not fear – Creative Mom is here!

Think back to your younger years.  Were you a victim of the hours-long car rides to the grandparents, Dad at the helm, Mom navigating from the passenger seat, you (and perhaps a sibling or two), crammed in the back seat between the cooler, a suitcase, and a pillow, realizing that, about 30 minutes into the trip, this is going to be ONE LONG DRIVE?  What did we do to occupy our time?

In our family, we played games.  All kinds of games.  First, there was the animal game.  All players would count the animals they saw out their window (it was just my brother and me, so we didn’t have the “sitting in the middle” issue).  The player who counted the most animals over a set period of time would be the winner.  However, if a cemetery (or a sign pointing down a road to a cemetery) appeared outside your window, you would have to “bury your animals”, lose your total and start all over again.

Another fun game we used to play was the Alphabet game.  I was the Champ of the 1977 Impala for this game.  As you drive down the road, you have it identify each letter of the alphabet, starting with A.  We would keep score as to who would find the most letters.  This can also be done using only license plates or even setting a time limit.

Some travellers enjoy the state game: identifying as many state license plates as possible.  This isn’t such a great idea where I live as most plates are from our state.  It is not common to see an out-of-state plate.  However, on a road trip to Colorado one summer (Yes, I know!  18 hours in the CAR!!!), we did have a great time playing this one.

While these three games are wonderful games to play in the car to keep children engaged, active and happy, none of them are really ideal for my kids today.  My boys have an age gap of 5 years, with the older son being 8.  My three year-old, while knowing all of his letters, cannot keep up with the speed of his big brother.  So, I’ve come up with some quiet activities for both of them in the car this time that are appropriate for each of them.

For my younger son, I am packing a small bag of goodies for him – some old, some new.  He is an avid crayon-man, so I have a baggie with 8 triangular crayons (to keep them from sliding).  I also packed a new coloring book for him, and he has a clipboard to use as a “desk” in the car.  I am also including a small sticker sheet and a small Aquadoodle set.  I am a huge fan of Aquadoodle, especially in the car.  He also has an I Spy book to look at in the car and he will take his Lovey as well.  We have three scheduled stops during our drive, and at each stop, I have a “reserve bag” of activities to trade out with him so he doesn’t get bored: a pop up book, a small bottle of bubble solution to occupy us while we stretch our legs, his Magna Doodle, and a felt set I made for him.  Snacks are a given, but the food stays up front with me (or even better – in the trunk) so eating times can be regulated.

For my older son, I have also created a travel bag.  I found out, on our last road trip, that he is a HUGE fan of the Rush Hour Jr. toy.  So, for this road trip, I have purchased the Rush Hour set with an extra set of cards.  This alone would occupy his time.  However, variety is the spice of life, so he is also getting a set of markers, paper and a clipboard (to make cards and write letters that we will mail along our journey), a couple of new books by his favorite authors, and a baggie with his Zoob pieces in it (safe for both boys and not as apt to be lost in the Abyss of the Backseat as Legos might).

Do you notice what is flagrantly missing from my list?  Electronics.  Don’t get me wrong: we have the Nintendo DS system, the TVs for the car, every Leap Pad learning system device and software available and everything in between.  We’ll probably bring the TVs and the DS along, too.  However, getting kids to do something besides stare at a screen for ten hours is my goal, and with these great tools under my belt, I think we’ll succeed.

And if not, I’ll make sure to stock up on extra batteries – just in case.

Wonderbrains carries an extensive line of great travel toys for all ages – magnetic activities for older kids and perfect for toddlers on up!

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