Lately I’ve been reading a lot about holiday gift-giving within big families, and each of these stories seems to have something in common: teenagers. They’re notoriously difficult to buy for, and unless you plan on shelling out big bucks for designer duds or the latest gadget at Best Buy, your purchase may be greeted with a forced smile and a mere “thanks.” (Why do you think grab bags and Secret Santas are some popular these days?) I don’t mean to go all Grinch on you, but it’s frankly my least favorite group to shop for. Well, if you’re like me –a glutton for punishment who tries to seek out creative options– but you don’t want to buy yet another iTunes gift card, check out the latest teen accessory that deserves a spot under the tree. The Optari Crossbody bag is as fashionable as it is functional. It’s small enough to hold a cellphone, money and a tube of lipstick for quick touch-ups. Wear it as a wristlet in one of nine colors, and you’re ready to go. Who says good things don’t come in small packages? This is one gift that won’t result in any eye-rolling…not deliberately, anyway.
In a Nutshell: A celeb favorite, this pint-sized purse is just begging to be dangling off your niece’s wrist.
Both of my girls have a flair for the dramatic. Whether they’ve inherited their parents’ passion for plays or have innocently been bitten by the theater bug, they adore putting on shows and having my husband and I as their hostages…er, captive audience. And because we are always on the lookout for toys and other fun stuff that can appeal to 4- and 8-year-olds, especially ones that are imagination-driven, we couldn’t resist Green Kid Crafts’ One World Puppets. Delivered right to your child’s door, this box is teeming with all the supplies needed to fashion paper doll puppets from repurposed materials. It comes with eight recycled cardstock dolls, an entire wardrobe of cardstock clothes (we love the vintage print romper!), wood craft sticks (in a rainbow of Popsicle hues) and glue dots for easy assembly. What do we love about this kit? Where do we start? First off, these aren’t your mother’s paper dolls; there are no tabs to wrestle with — simply slip the clothing on the dolls via the perforated tabs –and the outfits are playful and stylish. Once they’re dressed to the nines, use the glue dots to affix the ethnically-diverse dolls to the craft sticks and voila! Time to sit back and enjoy the show. Did we mention this company’s entire line of crafts is eco-friendly? Because they are subscription-based, you won’t find them in any toy store. Definitely the gift that keeps on giving, Green Kid Crafts are perfect for the out-of-state grandparent or friend in search of a special holiday surprise for a beloved child.
In a Nutshell: Tickets, please. When it comes to crafty kid kits that offer plenty of creative play, this one steals the show.
Hide-and-seek is one game my 4-year-old never tires of. Come to think of it, her 8-year-old sister will often join in on the fun, no arm twisting required. Maybe it’s the thrill of the chase or the excitement about the unexpected…whatever the reason, it’s a guessing game that always ends in laughter. It’s this universally appealing peek-a-boo concept on which a new lift-the-flap book is based, and one that’s bound to captivate curious preschoolers. Spot the Animals brings the outdoors inside with carefully concealed animals on each page, waiting to be uncovered. Even the youngest tot will be enticed by the slightly visible creature whose identity must be revealed by solving the preceding riddle. Pre-readers have a chance to reinforce what they may already know (their colors), while learning something new (who knew that penguins could be blue?). An engaging, entertaining read, this novelty book is as colorful as it is charming.
In a Nutshell: Can you spot the purple butterfly? This delightful book takes the guesswork out of how to pass the time while waiting at the doctor’s office, on the grocery store line, etc.
My 4-year-old’s favorite time of day is undoubtedly the afternoon. After a fun-filled morning at preschool, lunch and (hopefully) some outdoor play, she’s content to hunker down in her room for a while and settle in with her stuffed animals. I’m not rushing her off to be somewhere, so her mind is free to wander. It’s during these moments, the experts say, that kids get to “be kids” and when their imagination really takes shape. For those with an active fantasy life, but who also need to recharge their batteries with a little down time, comes CuddleUppets, a 2-in-1 plush toy that’s as fun on the go as it is for naps or bedtime. We’ve seen other soft travel toys, but none that is as generously sized as this line. Each machine-washable CuddleUppet features an animal head large enough to double as a pillow, with a blanket body that provides plenty of coverage for a sleeping tot. It makes for a perfect traveling companion that can easily stow away when you’ve reached your final destination. And even when you’re not in transit, this toy is just as appealing at home. After all, imagination knows no bounds.
In a Nutshell: Yes, you can take it with you. Available in eight different styles, including Magic Unicorn (shown here), these plush pals are travel-ready and snuggle-friendly.
My grandmother used to say, “Christmas is for kids,” but let’s face it: If it weren’t for all of Santa’s little helpers (yup, this means you), what kind of holiday would it be? You spend the entire month of December shopping, cooking, decorating and wrapping…and probably neglecting yourself in the process. But this year, it’s time to change all that and give yourself the gift of some TLC. Sure, you may not be able to swing an overnight visit to a spa, but that doesn’t mean you can’t replicate that experience at home. Our latest favorite indulgence? Goat Milk Stuff, an extensive line of lotions, soaps, bath bombs and other tub treats all made from raw goat milk. Before you go thinking that can’t possibly sound very appealing, humor us for a moment and take a whiff. This is no ordinary bar o’ soap; it’s hand cut and cured on a farm in Indiana, and infused with natural oils to give it a fragrance like no other. Choose from a number of invigorating scents, from Dragon Blood to Fiji Island (see, you can be transported from your bathroom to some remote destination). Or, if you really want to live dangerously, sample a little bit of everything with the red gift box (shown here). Containing one bar of soap, one lotion stick, one lip balm, one small bath fizzy and one tub of sugar scrub hearts, it may just get you through the entire season of holiday madness. Also makes a great hostess gift.
In a Nutshell: Kids aren’t the only ones who get to have fun in the bath. This company’s line of good-for-your skin soaps, lotions and other bath products will surely protect you from winter’s wrath and give you an excuse to lock the bathroom door.
No, it’s not quite the “Monster Mash,” but with Halloween just around the corner, we’ve been giving a lot of thought to healthy eating for the kiddies (got to counteract that sweet tooth somehow…). While I know quite a few moms who started out making fresh baby food for their first child, they never quite followed through with their second (or third, etc.). And who can blame them? Trying to find time to keep up with laundry, and manage a shower every now and then, is enough of a chore without the pressure of preparing pureed veggies from scratch. Well, even those wonder women with the best of intentions can now shrug off that guilt like yesterday’s yoga pants. A new baby food maker has come on the scene, promising to allow well-intentioned women everywhere to live up to their greatest expectations. BEABA Babycook is the coolest-looking, compact companion for any health-conscious family kitchen. Having just debuted at this week’s ABC Kids Expo, this countertop appliance makes baby food prep look incredibly easy and extremely efficient. Within 15 minutes or less, you can steam cook, vegetables, fruits and meats for your solids-loving little one without compromising on flavor. You have the options of blending or pureeing your baby’s food to the desired consistency (maybe she’s a fan of those mushy peas, but her choppers haven’t mastered ground beef). Whatever your or her preference, this multitasking tool makes the work straightforward. And if leftovers are on the menu tonight, Babycook can defrost and quickly reheat tomato sauce, beef stew or any other thing you’ve been saving. Once mealtime is over, pop the bowl and basket into the top rack of your dishwasher and you’re good to go. With such simplicity in the kitchen, you’ll wonder how you ever could have resorted to jarred food. Yup, you can pat yourself on the back now.
In a Nutshell: When it comes to cranking out fresh baby food, this easy-to-use, easy-to-clean baby food maker is the real deal.
As a kid, I despised having my temperature taken. It was one duty that my mom specifically designated to my dad who seemed to wrestle with a thermometer at my expense. I could never quite get it to stay under my tongue, and having to endure that entire minute of waiting for the mercury to peak felt like an eternity. My, how things have changed since then. Today, we have the options of under-the-arm or the less invasive in-the-ear models. Yes, you still have to contend with a squirming child, but at least you can get an accurate reading…or can you? The thermometer I currently rely upon is sometimes questionable; I wind up hitting the memory button in a panic and don’t know if I’ve just reset the darn thing or have the answer I’m looking for. For the temperature taking-challenged (like me!) comes a thermometer that lets you know whether your child has a fever loud and clear, just in time for cold and flu season. Within a second, the Safety 1st Advanced Solutions TALKING Ear Thermometer announces the measured temperature in either English or Spanish. As if that wasn’t clear enough, it also shines a visible red when detecting a fever. With a device this easy to use and information that can’t be misconstrued, we think it’s a medicine cabinet must-have. The Safety 1st Advanced Solutions TALKING Ear Thermometer debuted this week at the ABC Kids Expo and will be available in January 2013.
In a Nutshell: The next best thing to the kiss test, this talking thermometer lets you know if your child has a fever in no time at all.
Cutting those first teeth has got to be one of the more painful experiences for a new baby–not to mention the mom who’s suffering alongside her. When I was a kid, my childhood doctor told my mom that an adult, much less a helpless infant, couldn’t bare the excruciating pain. Back in the good old days, a simple silver spoon fresh from the freezer worked in a pinch. Today, moms’ choices for babycare woes are much more plentiful. We’re especially taken with one of the new Dr. Brown’s teethers, just launched this week at ABC Kids Expo, one of the country’s largest baby products trade shows. You may recognize the Dr. Brown’s name from his award-winning line of bottles, and this is one doc who understands his little patients’ needs. Not only is the Coolees Soothing Teethers line eye-catching (your baby will be more than willing to chomp on this brightly-colored watermelon), but its design is perfect for little hands. The squishy green “rind” is easy to grasp, while the red “fruit” center is textured with plenty of space to gnaw on. The best part? No seeds to contend with.
In a Nutshell: Teething is no fun. Treat your baby to one of these fruit-tastic teethers for instant relief, and give her something to smile about.
The block corner is one of my 4-year-old’s favorite part of her preschool classroom. There’s a variety of different styles from which to choose, from traditional, wooden cubes to colorful, cardboard blocks meant to resemble bricks. At home, she’s fortunate to have inherited her father’s childhood assortment of maple wood blocks, which she uses to build bridges, cities and other urban landscapes. Plus, there’s the foam blocks we have for the tub…let’s just there’s no shortage of construction opportunities in the course of her day. After playing with the translucent blocks at the library, we thought we’d seen it all…until The Land of Nod rolled out its brand-new block collection for the holidays. The aptly named It Makes a Village features an assortment of watercolor-hued blocks in shapes and sizes that defy standard block building (wavy orbs…how they think of that?). Not only do we love them for their soft edges (each piece is hand-finished and sanded, so no need to worry about sharp corners for inquisitive little builders), but the pieces fit together to ensemble a puzzle. So, even if you’re not up for erecting the next great city, your child can experiment on her own and create her own three-dimensional masterpiece. No blueprints required.
In a Nutshell: Worth the investment, this innovative block set will afford hours of open-ended play. Plus, the sturdy design will ensure its longevity for your kids and maybe even their kids.
As I write this, my 8-year-old is doing her math homework. A natural with numbers, she devours three-digit addition and polishes off regrouping like nobody’s business. Let’s just say she didn’t inherit the math gene from me…although both her uncle and grandfather (on my side) may account for some of her braininess (I just take credit for her way with words). Amazing, though, how all these years later, it’s still not cool as it could be for girls to love math. Even after the recent publication of Danica McKellar’s (a.k.a. “Winnie” from “The Wonder Years”) books touting math’s cool factor, I don’t see young girls running out to buy their own calculator. Maybe if we as parents found a way to recognize those kids who have a knack for numbers–and I don’t just meaning displaying that A+ math test on the fridge. Because I know just how to speak my daughter’s language, I get my own kick out of subtly influencing her wardrobe choices, especially when they reflect her brightness. The new fall/winter Geekie clothing line taps into that inner genius by letting kids proclaim their smart side fashionable. From hoodies to long- and short-sleeved Ts, this collection offers a relaxed sense of style and comfort, but with an edge to it. Sized for toddlers up through boys/girls 12, there’s plenty of room to grow.
In a Nutshell: We heart smarties. Now kids can let the world know that there’s brains behind all that beauty with this geek-friendly collection.