Category Archives: The Smart Walnut

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girl power: goldieblox action figure, macy’s parade float

I’m excited for my first grader who will be taking an after-school program all about STEM. If my dad were still alive, I know he’d be equally thrilled over the prospect of grooming a future engineer–and a female one at that. Because so many girl toys from my childhood were designed in pinks and purples, I’m always on the lookout for playthings that speak more to a child’s fascination with learning while having fun than toys that simply coordinate with her wardrobe. GoldieBlox has had girls’ interests at heart right from the beginning. These innovative construction kits combine storytelling with design and creative play: the stuff that imaginative kids crave. Whether it’s designing a parade flat, a spinning wheel or a dunk yank, girls get to experiment and hone their problem-solving skills to figure out what works best. The best part is what comes afterwards: pride in their work and a ‘look-what-I-can-do’ spirit they can take with them into their adult lives. Now, for girls whose sharp minds work just quickly as the rest as their bodies do, comes the GoldieBlox Zipline Action Figure. She comes with her own mini zipline that aspiring engineers can design and assemble. We think she’s primed for play and ready for action…just like a future engineer we know. MIT, here she comes!

In a Nutshell: You go, girl. A great holiday gift for the little girl on your list who would rather be tinkering away than playing princesses.  *Keep an eye out for the GoldieBlox GirlPowered Spinning Machine float during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.*

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a bright idea: cree great american bulb swap

It’s not your imagination; the days are getting shorter and there’s less daylight. I don’t know about you, but I miss summer! Until then, experts say it helps to expose yourself to more light, making it the perfect excuse to swap out those incandescent bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient LEDs. If you happen to live in NYC and are in the South Street Seaport area this coming weekend, take your old light bulb over to the Cree Great American Bulb Swap and you’ll receive a New Cree LED Bulb for free. The event takes place on Saturday, November 15 and Sunday, November 16 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

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junior achievement: quirk books’ kid presidents

Does your kid know his Carter from his Clinton? His Roosevelt from his Reagan? If U.S. history elicits snores and cries of boredom, then it’s time to remind your pint-sized patriot that yes, even these famous men were once kids. In honor of Election Day, we’re giving a shout-out to an awesome middle-grade book that will get kids interested in American presidents faster than you can say ‘Ulysses S. Grant.’ Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood From America’s Presidents gets our vote for entertaining education, as it profiles presidents way back to their (sometimes mischievous) youth. Who knew that Abraham Lincoln grew up with a stepmother who was anything but cruel? Or that Reagan was legally blind as a boy until a pair of glasses gave him plenty of insight, so to speak? Packed with 20 stories featuring hilarious illustrations, Kid Presidents takes the ho-hum out of history and reminds us that behind very great man is an interesting boyhood…especially if it helped shape him into a world leader. Aimed at ages 8-12, this book may just inspire future candidates.

In a Nutshell: Sure, the presidential election may be a good two years away, but there’s no time like the present to re-familiarize yourselves with all the great wonders from The White House.

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creativity craze: the complete book of activities, games, stories, props, recipes and dances for young children

It’s the first rainy day we’ve had in weeks, and somehow, it’s oddly comforting. Staying indoors practically forces me to hunker down, brew a cup of tea and watch the raindrops fall. And yet, when you add kids to that equation, it suddenly becomes a different story. Lucky for us, my 6-year-old had a puppet-making class at our local library this morning that helped save the day. On our way out, we stopped by a table of books featuring kids’ crafts, an ideal way to extend the creative experience back at home. While we perused several noteworthy recommendations, nothing comes close to the recent book I received for review. The Complete Book of Activities, Games, Stories, Props, Recipes and Dances for Young Children is teeming with ideas and suggestions for keeping imaginative kids actively engaged and entertained: a whopping 600+ selections are sure to impress even the most finicky kid (the one who even knows how to make his own playdough). My 10-year-old and her younger sister got a hold of the book one recent morning and got down to work. Having been bitten by the theater bug, the older one was really into the “Old Brass Wagon” dance and within a short time, I was treated to a live performance of their routine. Her sister also got in on the fun with “Ginny’s Box,” a combination treasure hunt/storytelling game that let both girls’ imaginations run wild. From this mom’s perspective, I’m all for anything that balances out screen time with creative play. This is one book we’ll be holding on to for a while.

In a Nutshell: Creative kids looking to expand their repertoire can’t go wrong with this massive tome. A bona fide treasure trove of activities for rainy days, sick days and more.

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The Tooth Fairy Wars

the whole tooth and nothing but: the tooth fairy wars

In our house, losing baby teeth means big business…and I’m talking about the Tooth Fairy making sure she has enough funds to satisfy the expectant child! Imagine how much easier life would be if a kid would rather forgo his cash reward and hang onto his lost tooth as his prize. Such is the premise of The Tooth Fairy Wars, a picture book that challenges kids to think outside the mouth, so to speak. The story revolves around a young boy named Nathan who’s determined to keep his missing teeth, no matter what the Tooth Fairy says or does. Page after page, he attempts to outsmart her with a series of seemingly clever antics…but is only met with disdain as she manages to one-up him. Readers will cheer Nathan along in his fight to succeed, and may recognize themselves in his tireless efforts to get what he wants. And just when it seems the Tooth Fairy herself has finally given up on this ungrateful boy (one who clearly does not understand how challenging her job can be!), the satisfying end to this inspiring story will have kids pumping their own fists in the air. The perfect read for the child who refuses to take “no” for an answer, The Tooth Fairy Wars proves that yes, the best man (or boy) can win after all.

In a Nutshell: A young boy’s loss is our gain: a delightful story about holding on to your beliefs, even when that means going against the grain.

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time to go play: vtech kidizoom smartwatch

When my husband was a kid, he liked to watch “Inspector Gadget.” He may have thought the adventures alone were cool, but personally, I think he was mesmerized by his watch, which could do just about everything under the sun. If ever we thought those kind of gadgets were a long way off, well, let’s just the say that the future is now. VTech’s Kidizoom Smartwatch is probably the hardest-working timepiece we’ve ever seen. Ever the multitasker, this wristwatch boasts a miniature camera for taking photos and making videos, four games to play on the go, and (our favorite) a voice recorder with five voice changing effects (bet Inspector Gadget would have loved that). Kids will love to dress up their pix with personalized picture frames, color filters and special distortion effects. I know I always look so much more vexing with devil horns sticking out of my head. Lucky for me, the screen size is modest at just under 1 1/2 inches. Oh, and of course, the Kidizoom Smartwatch tells time, too. Would you expect anything less?

In a Nutshell: “Watch” how quickly this super-cool catapults to the top of every kid’s wish list. Time to get to the toy store and pick up one of these…stat!

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time flies: maple landmark my activity clock

“Tempus fugit,” my grandfather used to say. For those unschooled in Latin, the expression means time flies, with the implication that you’re having fun, of course. I wish I could say this is the case for my 6-year-old, but she’s already crying the boredom blues…and it’s only the second week of summer vacation! When I tell her we’re heading to the beach, she reminds me that we “did that already.” To the library? “I already have enough books.” (Not a phrase I could personally ever relate to.) Well, since this kid has her eye on the clock more than any summer-loving child every should, the least she could do is learn to tell time….and I don’t mean the digital way! Later this month, Maple Landmark is coming out with the most gorgeous time-telling tool we’ve seen in a long time. My Activity Clock is fashioned from sturdy hardwood and features 12 removable activity disks that are blank on the back, so you can write in a particular activity. If you’re struggling with getting your child to nap or use the potty, this clock puts the power in their little hands. By letting them set the pace, they can better understand when it’s that time. There’s also a calendar and a weather section, which will get kids in the groove for their preschool routine. Now if only this clock could limit the time spent watching Frozen for the millionth time, we’d be in heaven (sigh…)

In a Nutshell: My Activity Clock makes the incomprehensible concept of telling time a bit more understandable. And it doesn’t need batteries.

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seeking solutions: peg+cat problem solver of the week

Does your kid love Peg+Cat as much as mine do? My 6-year-old admittedly enjoys it more than her big sister, but they still both relish the opportunity to help Peg complete her mission du jour. Even in real life, we make a big deal about finding ways to make things work, from short-cutting a recipe, to fashioning a replacement part for a craft project. If you’re particularly proud of a recent accomplishment, why not share it with other like-minded parents? PBS Kids is hosting a Peg+Cat Problem Solver of the Week. Each Monday, fans are asked to visit the Peg+Cat Facebook page submit an answer to the question, “What problem did your child solve this week?”, along with their child’s first name, photo and hashtag #ProblemSolved. Each Friday, a different fan will be selected as the Problem Solver of the Week. So, get cracking!

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sayonara summer slide: play and learn with wallace

In just a few short weeks, I’ll have a kindergartner graduate home for the summer. She’s learned so much this past year, and I can only imagine how much she’ll absorb once first grade starts up. Because our school district has a half-day kindergarten program, we supplemented her education with an enrichment program a few days a week: a great way of extending the learning and enabling her to grasp new concepts not covered by the Common Core. Sure, summer gives us a breather when it come to the frenetic pace of the daily grind, but I like to think my kids can still maintain an education outside of the classroom, even when they’re not hitting the books. If you find yourself looking for ways to keep your preschooler or kindergartner challenged over the summer break, look no further than the Play and Learn With Wallace collection. These books offer plenty of activities to keep kids engaged and entertained, whether they’re stuck at home on a rainy day or in the backseat on their way to a vacation house. We love the Giant Workbook, teeming with over 300 activities like tracing letters, adding numbers and telling time. Kids who relish stickers will be in their glory with the Giant Sticker Book, featuring over 1,000 (!) colorful adhesives that complete scenes, spell out sentences and more. If you’re on the go, check out the Play and Learn With Wallace app, with educational games galore. These books cleverly disguise learning as fun, so September’s arrival won’t feel so scary.

In a Nutshell: Our idea of summer school: great activity books that encourage independent thinking, at whatever pace you choose.

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numbers up: peg+cat super peg week

My kindergartner has found her latest heroine: PBS Kids’ Peg+Cat. If you’re not already familiar with the precocious preschooler, she and her sidekick kitty are often on the quest to solve the problem du jour–and with a sense of humor intact. Beginning this week, four new episodes will air that feature the dynamic duo on their latest problem-solving adventures. Because Peg+Cat finds creative ways to make math more engaging for its young viewers, you can expect plenty of problem-solving puzzlers in these episodes. Highlights include “The Arch Villain Problem,” during which alter egos Super Peg and Cat Guy must defend the make-belief city of Mathtropolis, and “The Long Line Problem,” one that envisions the joy being first in line (every parent’s dream!). No matter what Peg and her crazy kitty are up to, she’s found a few followers in this house.

In a Nutshell: DVR alert: new adventures of Peg+Cat to air all week. Nothing new to watch? Problem solved.

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