I’m finally ready to admit it: I feel old. My kids adore Minecraft and I personally can’t understand it. I’m not really sure where their fascination lies, but when they talk about it, I feel like they’re speaking another language. What is so great about Creative, and just who is this Steve guy, anyway? While Minecraft may be the buzzword of the moment, I still wish it wasn’t just another excuse for my kids to beg for more screen time. That’s why I’m psyched for what we’re expecting to be one of hot toys of the holiday season: LEGO Minecraft Creative Adventure Sets. Based on the different environments of the Minecraft world, these play sets encourage kids ages 8 and up to act out their virtual fantasies offline. And that means plenty of hands-on play where kids’ imaginations can soar. Whether it’s in the Cave where your must fight off zombies and spiders, the Farm (shown below) where you can cultivate your green thumb and harvest pumpkins that can later be fashioned in jack-o-lanterns, or The First Night where you must build and stock your shelter before the Creeper strikes, there are plenty of opportunities for creative play. Those looking for the ultimate Minecraft building experience will relish the Crafting Box, from which you can construct your own models. Each of the six different LEGO Minecraft sets are available online at the LEGO Shop and will be in stores by January 2015.
In a Nutshell: Even if you don’t ‘get’ the Minecraft lingo, these toys will make them think you do. And yes, this is how your mom felt about Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.
It’s like The Big Chill in our Frozen-obsessed house. Can you relate? My girls can’t get enough of this movie, and I know we’re not alone. Just last week, our plumber was singing “Let It Go” as he fixed our leaky sink…et tu, Brute? As this record-setting Disney franchise continues to amaze and delight fans of all ages, prepare yourselves for the continued onslaught of Frozen-themed goodies. With so many stores already sold out of Frozen toys, dolls and dress-up clothes, insiders are predicting a new wave of merchandise lasting well into the holiday season. (Really? Guess that means Olaf might make it to that summer he’s been longing for…). Naturally, we’re keeping our eyes peeled for any and all things Frozen, and so we’re waiting with bated breath for a new room decor line from Uncle Milton that will have Elsa, Anna and Olaf lovers redecorating their bedrooms in a heartbeat. For starters, the Olaf the Snowman Wall Friends brings everyone’s favorite snowman (sorry, Frosty) to life at the touch of a button. Kids will get a kick out of watching the 13-inch Olaf light up and talk to them, as he recites familiar phrases from the movie. If your kid knows his Frozen dialogue like the back of his hand, this is the toy for him. (Word is there will also be a Queen Elsa Wall Friends)…Elsa-adoring fans will be in the glory with the Snowflake Light Dance, which creates a bedroom light show with six different options. The snow queen herself strikes a daring pose, as she illuminates the scene. And if your kid can’t possibly pin down her favorite Frozen character, she can pay tribute to them all with Frozen Light Vines, 10 feet of multicolored lights that can be customized with attachable snowflakes and interchangeable light covers featuring the cast. With that much star power in one room, you can forget about “lights out” for the time being. Uncle Milton’s Frozen room decor line will be available in store this September.
In a Nutshell: Frozen fans will be clamoring for this decor designed to add lots of light and liveliness to any bedroom.
When I was a kid, I chopped off my Barbie doll’s hair and gave her a bob. I figured she’d need a sensible hairdo if she’d be blasting off into space. That may sound like the makings of a future scientist, but alas, I became a writer. I still like the fact that I was able to transform my doll into something that was more my speed: a thinking hot chick rather than a fashion doll who aspired to nothing more than acquiring 100 pairs of heels. Sure today’s Barbies have morphed into career girls and the like, but I still can’t relate to their kitten heels and tiny waistlines (and neither can my girls). Lucky for today’s kids, British-based Lottie Dolls have made their way across the pond and the timing couldn’t have been better. Our favorite happens to be Robot Girl Lottie, a bespectacled doll whose background story centers around entering her school science fair. In the hopes of creating a robot to help out with her chores (what kid can relate to passing the buck when it comes to cleaning her room?), she sets out to build her better half using recycled household objects. There’s even a separate Busy Lizzie the Robot Accessory Set where ambitious scientists can assemble Lottie’s pet project, complete with interchangeable parts, including her shoes. We love Lottie’s comfy, yet casual chic get-up, especially that atomic model hoodie. But all clothes talk aside, it’s Lottie’s story that sets the stage for more dramatic play than a mock fashion show could ever muster up. And for that, we are grateful.
In a Nutshell: Finally, a doll that shows impressionable girls that beauty and brains go great together.
Is a tablet on your kid’s wish list this year? If you’re in the market for a model that will keep him happy, but that won’t break the bank, we’ve found what you’re after. We got our hands on an advance copy of the VTech InnoTab 3S, and think it’s going to make many a kid very happy this Christmas. Targeted at ages 3-9, this tablet spans a wide age range–and with good reason. It comes loaded with plenty of apps–20 in all and others you purchase separately–including a MP3 player, art studio, calendar and friends list. We don’t personally know any 3-year-olds who are penciling in their playdates, but this definitely offers big-kid appeal for budding tweens making note of their friends’ b-days and other 411. The 5-inch screen is a touch smaller than competitor kid tablets, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in capabilities. One of the more standout features is Kid Connect, a premium package that lets your child send texts, stickers and even artwork to your smartphone. A kid-safe WiFi connection provides access to education expert-approved content like Sports Illustrated Kids. You don’t have to worry about stumbling upon inappropriate content, thanks to a parent control feature that lets you approve other URLs, set a daily usage limit and even view a history of sites visited. Other bells and whistles include a rotating camera and video recorder for taking tons of photos and home movies. And with a holiday that has the InnoTab 3S under the tree, there are bound to lots of happy moments worth capturing. The VTech InnoTab 3S is now available at a reduced price of $69.99.
In a Nutshell: A kid tablet that will wow your resident techie, big kids included.
When I was a kid, I accidentally left my box of crayons outdoors on a very sunny, hot day. Once I realized what I had done, I returned to find an amazing creation: a truly one-of-a-kind colossal-sized crayon. Despite its uniqueness, it wasn’t exactly practical for coloring (I could barely hold on to it with one hand!). Naturally, I didn’t want to part with this, but eventually gave in to reason (in the form of my mother). Today, that cool factor can be brought to life again, albeit in a less cumbersome fashion (was some future Crayola exec spying on me back in the day?). The Crayola Melt ‘n Mold Factory is one of the more novel craft toys we’ve seen this season. We love it not only for its awesome results, but because it can re-purpose all those broken crayon pieces that are cluttering up our play rooms, backseats and diaper bags! We got a first look at this toy back in February at Toy Fair, and were impressed by how quickly and easily it works. First, remove the crayon wrappers and make sure your crayons are in broken pieces. Next, snap in the melting tray and add crayons. Once the see-through door is closed, it locks automatically and the timer starts. Just wait for the red light to turn off (patience, patience; it’s not too long) and then pour the wax into the mold with a simple turn of the dial (no need to worry about burned fingers). Finally, once the mold has cooled down, the door will unlock. Let your new crayons sit an extra 10 minutes or so to cool down, and voila! Your own personal color palette. Let the creativity begin!
In a Nutshell: Ideal for the temperamental little artist who’s Burnt Sienna needs a touch of yellow. No sunshine required.
My 9-year-old loves her Nintendo DS more than me. I don’t take it personally, and of course, I’m only half-kidding. But the truth of the matter is, if I were to take a toy away from her as a form of punishment, it would be her DS. Much as I’d love for it to be otherwise–for me, taking my books and magazines away would be pure torture, and her 5-year-old sister, her crayons and markers–I know who I’m dealing with. Because in our house my fourth grader can only play her DS after a set amount of time (and, of course, after all her homework is done), she knows she must make her choices wisely. If you’re thinking I’m a cruel mom, then hold that thought for a moment and read on. When a brand-new copy of Lego Friends for the Nintendo 3DS game landed on my desk this week, I considered hanging on to it until Christmas. But, knowing how much my daughter was pining for a new game, I knew she’d appreciate it much more now than during a frenzied present-opening rush.Plus, I knew she’d get a rush from being my official tester. And so she’s playing this game as often as she can get her hands on it, and having a ball. If your kid is already familiar with the Lego Friends line, as mine is, then she’ll love how her favorite characters jump into virtual reality set against their favorite backdrops. My daughter loved that she could sample an alternate lifestyle as a high school student, mixing up cool stuff in chem lab or perfecting her karate kicks (I wish my school days memories were as exciting). She also liked that she could move from one activity to the next without losing any of her game play, and that she wasn’t prompted on what she had to do any specific moment (sound familiar?). Well, truth be told, I’m happy to acquiesce every now and then if it makes my kids happier. And while my 9-year-old has only reached touched the surface of what this Lego Friends game has to offer, she’s already learned another invaluable lesson Moms are always right.
In a Nutshell: Lego Friends lovers are sure to find plenty to do as they immerse themselves in the world of this brand-new game for the Nintendo 3Ds.
Has your kid set her sights on a new ride-on this Christmas? Amazing to me that these cars still appeal to my 9-year-old…and who can blame her? The latest models appeal to a variety of mini motorists, from a feline-friendly car, to one that even dear old dad would approve of. Two new ones that caught our attention this season are the Dynacraft Hello Kitty Coupe and the Famosa Range Rover. Any HK fan worth her salt will relish this sweet ride, complete with an MP3 speaker to play all her top tunes. Our favorite detail is the kitty cat ear-shaped bucket seat–purr-fectly divine. The 6-Volt Hello Kitty Coupe comes in white or purple. And if your driver-in-training is pining for something more like Dad would drive, check out the Famosa Range Rover Sport 12-Volt. Designed to mirror the grown-up Range Rover SUV, this kid version has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a fashionable ride-on, including iPod/MP3 compatibility. We fancy the big tailpipes (environmentally-friendly, of course) and solid tires for exceptional traction. Bound to get your kid through any rough terrain he may encounter. If this car can get us through the holidays with our sanity intact, we’re all for it.
In a Nutshell: Ride-ons that really rev our engines. Definite contenders for best under-the-tree gift this holiday seasons.
It only takes a couple of Christmas catalogs to fill our mailbox, and boom! We’re already thinking of holiday gift ideas. And with Hanukkah right on top of Thanksgiving this year, kids will be drawing up their wish lists faster than we can clear the dinner table! My 9-year-old is begging for her own iPod, but the jury is still out on whether Santa will deliver. One toy we’ve got our eyes (and ears) on this year is PopStars!, a super-cool playset line from Playmobil. If you’re already familiar with this company’s tremendous assortment of themed castles, pirate ships, farms and other adventure-packed settings, you’re no stranger to the tremendous play value…not to mention the multitude of miniscule accessories they come with! But don’t worry about adding another set of storage bins to your family room. The PopStars Stage comes with a manageable amount of stuff: four figures, a drum set, two guitars with stands, microphones and a few other accessories. And of course, don’t forget the spot where all the action happens: a stage with flashing lights and built-in speakers, so you can attach your MP3 player and really rock out. Hmmm…maybe we can hold off on that iPod for another year?
Walnut Special: Playmobil is hosting a “Battle of the Playmobil PopStars!” contest on Facebook. Fans will be asked to choose a favorite featured band and give it a fitting name. Two lucky winners will receive a $500 shopping spree online, and other prizes will include the PopStars line and Playmobil mystery figures. Visit popstars.playmobil.com now through November 15th. Good luck, and rock on!
Have your kids started drawing up their holiday wish lists yet? I know, I know…it’s not even Halloween! And yet the Frontgate holiday preview catalog arrived in the mail today and we’ve already seen a TV commercial for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular about a zillion times. Because it’s harder to come up with gift ideas as my daughters get older, I’ve been making mental notes of “this is so cool’ conversations that I overhear from my 9-year-old. The tween years can be a challenge in so many ways, and gift-giving is no exception. Because my older daughter appears to have outgrown Calico Critters (sigh…), I wonder what type of playset can boost her imagination and keep her playing long enough to stay away from the iPad/DS/electronic gadget of choice. For those of you who can’t get your hands on a Rainbow Loom or who are in the market for a big-ticket item, journey on over to Planet Orbeez. You may already be familiar with these cool, gel-like beads that, when soaked in water, turn into colorful orbs used in all types of playful products, from a flower lights show, to a soothing spa. The latest in the Planet Orbeez line, Ali’s Adventure Park, transports girls to a miniature world of fun festivities. This set comes with Ali and her pet unicorn Clio, along with a whole gaggle of friends to join in on the fun. They can swim in the Orbeez pool, float down a river and wind up riding a Ferris wheel…all in a day’s play. Santa will need to make plenty of room in his sleigh for this playset, sure to be a holiday favorite.
In a Nutshell: Admission one. This tween girls’ playset is big on adventure and cool enough for the post-Calico Critters crowd.
Yesterday’s weather was perfect: sunny and in the 60s, with just a hint of fall in the air. After a rather buggy summer, my 5-year-old was happy to finally be back outside where she could play undisturbed by those pesky critters. So we took out her trike and she happily pedaled back and forth, and even giving her stuffed panda Bamboo a ride. As I watched her attempt to maneuver herself through various twists and turns on her path, I realized that the days of ride-ons were pretty much behind us now. Even though she is almost too big to fit inside her convertible coupe, she still likes to cruise around the backyard, her knees bumping against the dashboard much to her (odd) delight. Well, if my now-kindergartener could go back in time, I’ve no doubt she’d have a grand old time aboard the soon-to-be-released yoMOTO Wheel of Power. One of the more stylish ride-ons we’ve seen in our day, this luxury vehicle (if every there was one for kiddos) sports solid, sturdy wheels; your choice of either red or blue detailing; and is topped off with either an American or Prince Lionheart flag that cheerfully announces “Make way for the driver!” Of course, we love the fact that it doesn’t run on batteries, but rather is powered by imagination–strong leg muscles don’t hurt either. In stores this October, the yoMOTO Wheel of Power has all the makings of a perfect gift under the tree this Christmas. On your marks…
In a Nutshell: Put your kid in the driver’s seat with a stylish ride-on that’s bound to take them places.