On a day off from school, my girls and I spent the morning at our favorite destination: the public library. One of the playrooms was converted into a mini theatre, with a makeshift stage–complete with sweeping, velvet curtains!–dress-up clothes and props. I get a kick out of watching these little ladies put on a show, trying to outdo the other one’s dramatics. But what I find most refreshing is watching them enjoy some good, old-fashioned play–away from the gaming consoles and other battery-powered toys that seem to deplete their energy faster than I can keep up with. Watching my kids use their imaginations reminds me that they are still young and that the days of make-believe are numbered. It’s why I’m always on the lookout for toys that harken back to a simpler time, but with a modern twist. Fostering that type of pretend play is the new Hello Paper Dolls line, a well-constructed collection of classic dolls that sports a contemporary look. Each kit includes a generously sized 6-inch princess, royal pooch, two sheets of punch-out clothes, one sheet of accessories and a stencil, so stylish girls can customize their own designer doll. Not to worry if your kid isn’t into princesses (like my 7-year-old); these dolls have a look that’s all their own. They’re not exactly your mother’s paper dolls, but the concept is the similar–and the fashion is so much more hip! My resident divas may be singing like Gaga, but they’re still just my little girls. Here’s to make childhood last a little bit longer…
In a Nutshell: Paper dolls are no longer passe with these adorable dress-up sets that let little girls be little girls–and stay that way (for now, anyway).
My 3-year-old is learning French in her preschool. (When I was 3, the only French I could master was in the form of fries.) Today, exposing a child to her diverse, multicultural surroundings has become the norm, beginning well before the school-aged years. And since research shows that younger children demonstrate a natural aptitude for learning a second language, it helps to look for entertaining ways to cultivate this love of learning for your little one. Any parent who’s already familiar with the Little Pim line of educational DVDs will find the brand-new board book line to be a natural extension. And even if you don’t know the charming little star of this series, you’re bound to find a new learning partner for your preschooler. We got our paws on a couple of the series’ books featuring the global-trotting panda, found a cozy spot and began reading. For starters, the pages are especially sturdy and meant to hold up to lots of repeat page-turning. As pre-readers are introduced to different colors, feelings and other basic subject matters, they will enjoy the tactile experience of lifting the corresponding flaps and tabs, highlighting a specific word in both Spanish and French, as well as English. We like that the text can be witty as it entertaining (“No, this frog isn’t red!”), making this teachable moment more of an adventure. How great…or, should we say, “tres bien!”
In a Nutshell: If you’ve got a budding bookworm who loves to turn the pages and mimic what you say, help her become a lover of language with these engaging, multicultural first books.
There comes a certain time during childhood when kids suddenly love the idea of being grossed out. When I was in third grade, if a boy touched you, you suddenly “got COOTIES!” Although we squealed and screamed at our male classmates, we secretly loved the attention (even if we didn’t realize it). No wonder then that a new collectible toy dubbed ICKEE Stikeez has such broad appeal. Joining the latest trend in miniature vending machine-sized playthings, these characters are getting lots of attention for their yuck factor. Aside from loving the name alone (say it aloud and you’ll see for yourself), kids love that these portable pals can find a place wherever they can stick: an iPod, lunchbox or locker. Plus, they travel light and come in their own see-through capsule, making them a cool companion for the bus ride. As a “grown-up,” you’ll appreciate the play-on-words-inspired humor behind their individual monikers: Dandriff, who’s a bit of a flake, and Yux, who hangs out behind the fridge. And no toy worth its salt without boasting silly sound effects; these suction cupped guys make a popping noise when you release them. Now that’s cool!
In a Nutshell: Move over, Squinkies. ICKEE Stikeez, the latest collectible toy, has hit the streets with plenty of gross-out appeal for boys and girls.
Today, as I looked out my daughter’s bedroom window, I noticed some yellow leaves at the top of a tree on our front yard. Before long, those colored leaves will multiply and then we’ll be seeing signs of Christmas in store windows. That can only mean that winter isn’t too far off, and that means I need to start tracking down those mittens and snow boots sooner rather than later. If you have a baby or toddler, you can appreciate the usefulness of a snowsuit during a blustery day of outdoor play. But what happens once you’re back inside, you’ve gotten your little one fully dressed yet again…and before you know it, he’s having a field day pulling off his socks over and over? Baby Undersocks is the answer to cold tootsies that deserve to stay warm all winter long. Made from breathable, eco-friendly bamboo, these thermal underpants have plush socks sewn into the bottom, making an ideal layering piece for your baby’s winter wardrobe. We like that Baby Undersocks fit underneath your little one’s clothing without causing extra bulk and pull down easily for diaper changes. The best part is that socks stay in place, putting an end to the search for all those missing baby booties that have disappeared into oblivion.
In a Nutshell: Save “This Little Piggy” for bathtime and keep those little tootsies covered–and warm–with this all-in-one layering layette.
Whether or not I choose to admit it, summer is officially over. No matter what the calendar says, I refuse to put away my flip flops, suntan lotion and shorts in case Indian Summer decides to stick around for a while. While our kiddie pool may have been deflated, that doesn’t mean we still can’t savor those last warm weather days and still mild nights with some fun playthings, like FyrFlyz. This is not your average spinning toy, but one that’s cleverly disguised as a mini lights show. If you’re a wizard with a yo-yo, then you’ll want to get your hands on this very hands-on toy. Somewhat difficult to explain, but easy to play, FyrFlyz works by swinging two strings while pulling them tight and then loose. The result is an incredible spinning lights show, within your grasp. The amount of tension (or slack) you create determines the types of tricks you can do. It took a few turns for us to get the hang of it, but once you master this toy, you’ll be able to challenge yourself by learning clever tricks like Spinning Stars, Flywheels and Sun Blasts. We love the special multi-color LED lights effect, which make for an amazing lights show especially out under the stars. Let’s just say that celebrating the last days of the season can be seen in a whole new light.
In a Nutshell: The fireflies may have already disappeared from your backyard, but that doesn’t mean these FyrFlyz won’t make for some early autumn nighttime fun.
When you’re looking to buy something for a girlfriend and her little one, you inevitably wind up making more than one trip to the mall. Now that school has begun and we moms are more time-pressed than usual, we can appreciate a shopping destination that has it all. Enter Layla Grace, an online boutique that recognizes your discriminating taste for gifts that make lasting impressions. Stocked with everything from baby bedding to bubble bath, you’ll find no shortage of ideas for new arrivals, new moms in need of pampering and new homes that beg to be outfitted in style. In our quest for quality merchandise, we were particularly pleased by the Matteo line of linens for the nursery and the dining room (those linen napkins will be the piece de resistance on your holiday table). We’ve no doubt you’ll find something worth savoring.
In a Nutshell: An easy order to fill: gift-giving that doesn’t sacrifice style for convenience. We’ll take two, please.
My 7-year-old has just started getting the hang of Hangman. I knew that day would be coming once coloring books and makeshift games of Tic Tac Toe on restaurant playmats quickly lost their allure. Now that she’s become a solid reader, it’s a great way to build on her growing vocabulary and keep her motivated to read for pleasure. For kids who love a good game of words, but may not be ready for Scrabble, comes Flip to Win Hangman, a portable game that works just as well while waiting for dinner to arrive, as it does traveling to Grandma’s. I like that kids can turn over each letter possibility as they fill in the corresponding answer on the dry-erase board; having the alphabet front and center jogs little brains that are doing their best to guess the possible answer. Easy wipe-on/off will have you playing this game over and over, so now you don’t have to feel so guilty about playing Words with Friends as much as you already do.
In a Nutshell: Hung up on Hangman? This version works nicely for younger kids wanting to impress Mom or Dad with their budding vocabulary. Oh yeah, and they want to be able to beat the pants off you, too.
One crisp, fall morning at the bus stop is all it takes to have me start freaking out about the impending winter. Aside from the bone-chilling wind that whips down our street, a short walk from the Long Island Sound, my hands despise the cold weather more than I do. Doused with a recurring bout of seasonal eczema, I slather on more hand lotion from December-March than a masseuse. But enough about me…I can’t help but wonder what the mom up at the bus stop at the top of the hill will do. She’s got a newborn in tow every morning her third grader boards the bus, so she may just have to put that stroller away once the cold hits. Either that, or invest in the ingenuous Haypenny Handmitten. I can’t decide what I like most about this stroller accessory: the fact that it’s practical (by warming freezing fingers exposed to the elements) or fashionable (it looks not unlike one of my most favorite sweaters). No matter what factor sways you when buying for your baby (or yourself), the handmitten is one of those “now why didn’t I think of that?” products that belongs on any walking mom’s stroller. This fleece-lined knit hand muff stretches right across the handlebars, and is long enough to fit under your coat’s sleeves. Always taking off a glove to reach in your bag and grab that ringing phone? Now you can safely tuck your phone (or keys, pacifier or any other small item) in the hidden pocket, and you’ll have easy access–and fingers that don’t feel like frozen fish sticks.
In a Nutshell: Save your hands from winter’s wrath with a stroller accessory that looks (and works) as good as it feels.
When I was about 7 or 8, Strawberry Shortcake was one of my best playmates. Yes, there was a time when Barbie was pushed aside in favor of this sweet-smelling lass. My younger cousin and I asked Santa for her one Christmas and oddly enough, she received 2 dolls and I none. Clearly, Santa was having a senior moment, so my cousin graciously passed one doll on to me. And what a good mommy I was to Miss Shortcake: I combed her hair, changed her clothes and took her on all sorts of adventures, from bike-riding to playing out in the backyard. (She could never truly be herself in that cramped-up strawberry, anyhow…) One of the things I never got around to doing with my best dolly, though, was something that I do with my own daughters, and that’s have a music party. How utterly delightful that today, the Strawberry Shortcake Easy Recorder Songbook lets me take a walk down memory lane while my kids test out their own music-making skills. The book and recorder sets contains basic instructions for first-time players, and features a medley of songs (including “A Berry Happy Birthday”) with large print music notes. My 7-year-old reminds me that next year, she’ll be learning the recorder in music class. By then, with the help of Miss Strawberry herself, I expect no less than a virtuoso.
In a Nutshell: Moms who remember the beloved scented doll from the 80s will be tickled pink over this latest Strawberry Shortcake incarnation.
At a time when SpongeBob is making waves for influencing poor attention spans in preschoolers, I feel the need to dust off some of my childhood classics, crawl back under the covers and remember a time when no one griped that Cookie Monster was responsible for making us eat too many chocolate chips. One of my favorite friends was Babar, the elegant elephant whose only flaw was making me want to learn French before I could master the English language. Nevertheless, the antics of papa elephant, Celeste and their adorable family was my first taste of sophistication and one that I can appreciate even more today as I read to my children. Picking up from where the story lines leave off are newly released twin DVDs. Babar: The Classic Series is made up of two themed titles, each with 4 episodes. Best Friends Forever demonstrate the importance of working as a team and being understanding, while School Days teaches the timeless lessons of patience and being truthful. Just as the new school year kicks off, these releases serve as gentle reminders that while it isn’t always easy being a kid, it helps to have a friend in your corner. Isn’t that true for us all?
In a Nutshell: As the kiddies head back to school and outside influences inevitably creep into their lives, keep them grounded (for as long as you can) with life lessons from a trusted childhood friend.