K’nex Builds Interest In STEM

There was much celebration!
There was much celebration!

We received six K’nex sets for my kids to test and review. We have two girls, aged 9.5 and 8, and a 5-year-old son. My son immediately opened a treasure chest full of parts and a book of 70 model ideas and started building. He was beyond excited for a K’nexosaurus Rex set, a motorized dinosaur build. The four other sets were aimed specifically at girls, and after a few minutes of looking at everything we’d received, my son wanted to open them all ASAP.

The sets aimed at the girls are meant to encourage interest in STEM. The sets included activities such as framing a house, building simple machines, and building a car with a motor. We received a plane and hang glider set, a carnival set with manual carousel, a set with two different houses, and a clubhouse set with a simple elevator, zip line, and the aforementioned car.

As soon as the girls got home, we started the build on the houses. I never played with K’nex as a kid, and as a LEGO builder I was very impressed with the packaging. The sets are well packed, with both the rods and the connectors color coded by length and shape. The pieces are also well-bagged in intuitive ways; main connectors were in their own bag and the pieces were organized in the order they’re used.

We had two main issues with the sets. First, some of the diagrams were really hard to mimic. As a 36-year-old, I found myself studying the pictures, trying to figure out which way pieces went and how they connected. While I wanted the kids to build independently, there were times that they really needed help.

More frustrating, though, was that the figurines in the girls’ sets kept falling apart. Legs and arms were popping out. The dolls’ hands were also not able to grip the zipline, and when using the elevator, the side of the clubhouse hit the figurine’s head multiple times. The company assured me that the loose limb issue has been fixed in the new sets they’re releasing, and I look forward to testing them to verify.

Much to my son’s disappointment, all the figurines are girls. K’nex has no plans at this time to add boys to the line as the sets are specifically targeting girls. The kids had a great time building, and my 9.5-year-old daughter was ultimately able to do a few full builds by herself. Every kid who has walked into our house for the last week has salivated at these sets and sat down to play for hours. Having played with the review sets, the new K’nex are on my list of things to buy for our home.

Sets can be purchased at multiple retailers; prices range from $12-$40.

Photos: Dani Weiss-Bronstein

How Four Kids LEGO of Self-Doubt and (MIND)STORMed the Castle

You know how I don’t like to spend Saturday? Watching kids play with Lego bricks. Especially if I’m not allowed to play with them myself. So how I found myself driving three sixth grade Montessori boys (one of them my own spawn) and offering to spend the entire day in an auditorium watching nineteen teams of four build Lego robots, then watch them try to push three other Lego robots out of a taped circle again and again, is beyond me.

Continue reading How Four Kids LEGO of Self-Doubt and (MIND)STORMed the Castle

Disney, You Lost Money On My-Four-Year Old Daughter

Disney has decided to withhold Rey toys, because, you know, no boy would want to play with a girl doll, and girls don’t want to play Star Wars. The magic marketers know it all.

Left unchecked, you will crush my daughter, who plays house with boys and superheroes with girls, loves her ballet, and has a huge stack of unused princess toys because many of her relatives and friends won’t shop for her outside of the girl section.

Don’t worry, I will not let you pull the joy from my four-year-old’s play, no matter how she doesn’t fit the segmentation you believe she is in. I will help her find the toys she likes best.

You will, however, lose any revenue you might get by properly conducting your market research and your segmentation, and actually create toys my daughter would like, then market them to her. That choice and loss is yours.

Continue reading Disney, You Lost Money On My-Four-Year Old Daughter

An Inviting Children’s Section For All, Fred Meyer

After writing about Target’s failure to invite my daughter into their children’s section, many questioned, among other things, how a store could sort toys in the traditional manner, limited by the toy manufacturers. Several called for a look at the manufacturers, not the toy stores. They failed to grasp the most important part of the article:

Target failed to keep its word when I knew there was a way.

My little princess has a very different feel for Target than she does for another toy section, one in our local Fred Meyer. So today, I am looking at why Fred Meyer invites my daughter deep into its “boy” section. So I walked through the toy section, with one rule, I could not touch anything. I had to see the invite where my daughter did, with my eyes.

There are two differences I saw between the stores. The obvious one, the size of the toy section, ended up taking a back seat to the very subtle one, inclusiveness. Further, the lack of a third, different section breakout, is equally interesting. Which brings up the key question:

If Fred Meyer and Target have the same section break out, one probably required by the toy manufacturers, how does Fred Meyer bring inclusiveness into its toy section?

A close look at the toys showed a possible answer to this question.

Continue reading An Inviting Children’s Section For All, Fred Meyer

From Collecting to Constructing: Shopkins Kinstructions

Shopkins have invaded our home this year thanks to a multitude of unboxing videos on YouTube Kids. Just like baseball cards of years gone by, the excitement and suspense of discovering what’s inside the package has kids hooked—especially my daughter.

I never imagined she’d be excited to open a box and squeal upon finding a mini, glittery stapler inside, but here we are.

The tiny toys are adorable, but each time we open a new package, I ask, “But what are you going to do with them?”

“Keep them in my collection!” is the invariable answer. On the shelf the toys go.

This month Moose Toys and C3 Construction released brick sets to answer that question in a more hands-on way. The new Shopkins Kinstructions are build-it-yourself kits that make perfect playsets for the collectible figures.

The Kinstructions sets proved to be too difficult for my six-year-old—and challenging even for this mom—but once assembled, the hassle was worth seeing the Shopkins figures off the shelf and into my daughter’s hands.

Continue reading From Collecting to Constructing: Shopkins Kinstructions

Holiday Peace, Thanks to the Lego Advent Calendar

Today I give thanks for one of the few things that kept me sane over the last month and the never-ending sense of impending holiday madness.

Thank you, Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar, for giving my child a reason to get up on the cold December mornings, where it was still dark outside and all he wanted to do was stay in bed. The struggle was real, but you gave him motivation, the motivation I happily exploited to get him to school.

Thank you, Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar, for giving my son and my spouse something to bond over when both were stressed and cranky. The discussions about which planet each little figure was from put smiles on both their faces.

Santa C3PO
photo courtesy of Jena Burne

Thank you, Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar, for giving me five minutes of peace and quiet every day while my son was busy building and playing with each new guy, ship, or weapon. A chance to drink coffee and just be was quite possibly the greatest holiday gift given to me.

Today, we say goodbye to the Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar for another year. The box will disappear, but the characters will live on, particularly because my son is creating a giant Star Wars display with everything he received over the last twenty-four days. I only hope that I will remember the joy you gave me over the month of December when in February I step on one of your adorable figures in the middle of the night.

In It for the Laughs: A ‘Schmovie’ Review

Every year while I was growing up, Santa brought our entire family a tabletop game to enjoy after Christmas dinner, or, if the game was fun enough, New Year’s Eve.

Santa’s still pretty cool about doing that in my family’s home every year, although I have to say he’s getting quite a bit quirkier in his old age. He’s always seeking out something that challenges both the intellect, and tickles the funny bone.

The offbeat minds at Galactic Sneeze have come up with a game they feel might just do the trick with their recent bestseller, Schmovie. They gave me the chance to see if this is something in which I might recommend to everyone’s personal Santa or gift-giving service.

Continue reading In It for the Laughs: A ‘Schmovie’ Review

Build & Imagine: STEAM-Powered Dollhouses

Here at GeekMom we definitely love STEM toys, but when you add art into the mix to make STEAM, the result is a well-rounded toy built for imaginative, unending play. Laurie Peterson of Build & Imagine had this idea in mind when creating the StoryWalls dollhouses.

The vibrant playsets combine construction pieces with magnetic dolls that can be dressed up and accessorized. With bright colors—but very little pink!—and detailed, lively illustrations, the Build & Imagine sets encourage girls ages 4+ to be both builders and storytellers.

Continue reading Build & Imagine: STEAM-Powered Dollhouses

So Your Kid Wants a Hoverboard

It’s that time of year. If the prospect of our kids being home for one to two weeks isn’t scary enough, we also have to shop. Sure, the holidays are about peace, and goodness, and religion, and all that stuff that we wish life were always about. But it’s also—let’s be honest here—about the stuff.

And what bigger craze is there this year than the hoverboard? What do you do if your kid wants one? Do you give in? I mean, we’re now firmly set in the future of Back to the Future II, and the Hoverboard is officially a reality. And since you can’t take them to see Jaws 19 at the Holomax, can’t you at least make this dream (of yours) come true (for them)?

The easy answer is yes. Absolutely. Here’s the $400 (or $319 plus tax somewhere, I’m sure). Kids, enjoy the future and all its wonders! If that is your choice, good for you. You’re all set. Happy Holidays.

But what if, while the idea of having a hoverboard in your home sounds Totally Tubular to the 80’s kid in you, the adult in you thinks it might be kinda dangerous, expensive, or otherwise a bad idea?

What do you do then?
Continue reading So Your Kid Wants a Hoverboard

CloudPets – A Message You Can Hug

CloudPet a great idea for anyone with family or friends who live far away. Children with parent(s) on deployment, friends who have moved away, or other loved ones that aren’t near enough to give hugs in real time.

The toy is a stuffed animal with the ability to receive recorded messages sent via the Cloud Pet app. Messages can be up to 10 seconds in length and are transmitted to the animal via Bluetooth signal from the free CloudPets app.

When a message is received the red heart on the bear lights up and allows the holder to listen to the message with a press of a paw. In return, pressing another paw allows the child to send a message back to the original sender.
Continue reading CloudPets – A Message You Can Hug

Hail to the Paper Chief: the Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset

In these days of apps, games and show-streaming, it’s unusual to amuse yourself with something as analog as paper dolls. Leave it to Quirk Books to come up with a fun, pop culture-friendly take with the Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset.

Illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald, the paper doll set imagines Hillary as the first woman in charge of the Oval Office.

Continue reading Hail to the Paper Chief: the Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset

Four Creative Ways To Give Lego Gifts

Image credit: LEGO City Advent Calendar 2010 – Day 21/24 by Kenny Louie

Given that there are more than five million Lego bricks being made every hour (yes, really!), there’s a good chance there will be a box of them under your Christmas tree this year. But why just wrap them up in paper when you can get more creative with your Lego gifting? Here are four ideas to try:

Lego Advent calendar

Lego sells ready-to-go Advent calendars. Each day you open a panel and get a minifig or tiny set. They come in a variety of themes, including Star Wars, City, and Friends. This year there’s also a Minions-themed Mega Blocks calendar. But I’m more of a DIY-er.

There are two ways you could go to build one on your own. You could get small sets, like minifigs, Mixels, and the small polybag sets. It won’t be a cheap Advent calendar, but it’s an option! Or you could split up a set and dole out a few pieces each day. The most straightforward way would be with the Creative Supplement (which also comes in the bright Friends-set colors). It’s a box of 303 basic bricks. You could either put a dozen or so in the calendar each day, or you could use it as a countdown or count-up. With 303 bricks, you could give 1 on December 1, 2 on December 2, and so forth all the way to Christmas Eve (or vice-versa with 24 on December 1 counting down).

If you’d like to build anticipation a little more, you could do the same with an actual set. To reduce the torture, be sure to give out the pieces in the order it takes to build the set! A few sets with just about the right number of pieces for the countdown method are: Continue reading Four Creative Ways To Give Lego Gifts

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #4: Toys and Lego!

Now that we’re in the second half of November, I know I’m not the only one starting to really flesh out my holiday shopping lists. Toys are almost always on kids’ wish lists (and many adults’ lists, as well!), so here are some of our favorite toys that we (or our kids) are wanting this year.

Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #4: Toys and Lego!

Target’s Toy Section: Gender Neutral in Word Only

Target needs to remember this saying:

“Actions speak louder than words.”

A few months ago, Target announced a change in the toy section. In response to customer feedback, they promised no more girl or boy sections, just one big gender-neutral section. Cheers and complaints immediately arose from the masses. A new day upon us, people either embraced or fought against the empowering move. Just one problem, Target played lip service but failed to make substantial changes of any kind.

Let me explain. Continue reading Target’s Toy Section: Gender Neutral in Word Only

Here Are All 7 New ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Lego Sets

Photo courtesy of Lego, used with permission.
Photo courtesy of Lego, used with permission.

It’s Force Friday, and that means brand new Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise is appearing all over the place. We’ve been waiting to see what Lego was going to roll out, and now the sets are here and they are EVERYTHING WE DREAMED OF. Continue reading Here Are All 7 New ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Lego Sets

Blu-Bot Moves and Grooves

Blu-Bot on GeekMom
Excited to try out Blu-Bot. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Recently, my son Joey and I had an opportunity to review the Blu-Bot robot toy from Silverlit. We are definitely a household of robot enthusiasts, toy and otherwise, so we were very excited to take Blu-Bot out of the box and see what he had to offer.

Blu-Bot on GeekMom
The Blu-Bot’s packaging. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Blu-Bot is shipped in an informative and eye-catching package. Open the Velcro cover to see Blu-Bot’s color (black or white) and to read some basic instructions. At a glance, you’ll be able to see all of the functions he performs with and without his companion app.

In manual mode, without the app, he dances, detects obstacles, acts as a guard, and is able to talk to other Blu-Bot robots. Using the control panel on the back of the robot, you can program his facial expressions and movements, up to 40 steps.

Blu-Bot on GeekMom
Blu-Bot’s control panel. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Blu-Bot also works with a free app on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Android devices. Look for the appropriate app for your device in the App Store or the Google Play Store. For our review, we used an iPhone 5.

With the app, you can drag and drop icons to create a program. Make him walk, turn his head, change his facial expression, and speak with up to 39 steps. You can choose from several pre-built dance sequences. Blu-Bot can even change your voice. Record a phrase and choose from six preset robot sounds. Blu-Bot will play back your phrase in a robot voice, and the distortion is pretty humorous. You can also use a gesture control feature to give Blu-Bot instant moves.

Blu-Bot on GeekMom
He lights up and has many facial expressions! Photo: Maryann Goldman.

We found Blu-Bot easy to use out of the box. He’s recommended for ages 5+, and I think that’s accurate. Even younger kids can use beginning programming skills to drag his movement icons around and build a quick program.

Blu-Bot can even be used as a Bluetooth speaker. Once you have him paired to your device, play a song, and listen on the Blu-Bot speaker. How cool is that?!? The sound was decent, and he’s functional even when your child isn’t playing with him.

Without a doubt, our favorite feature was the voice-changing option. It’s so easy to record a simple phrase, choose from six different pitch settings, and hear Blu-Bot repeat your phrase in a cute and funny robot voice. This feature is sure to make your child giggle loudly and smile ear-to-ear.

We have several other robot toys in the house including Dash and Dot from the Wonder Workshop, the Lego Mindstorms EV3, and Darkside Ollie by Sphero. Considering that Blu-Bot is under $50, he’s quite functional and a perfect beginning programming toy for a robot enthusiast.

You can find Blu-Bot and other Silverlit toys at your local discount store and at Amazon.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Tabletop Game: ‘Harbour’

Image: Tasty Minstrel Games
Image: Tasty Minstrel Games

Harbour is a worker placement game focused on humor and economy. Players run their meeples through town, using the special abilities of the buildings to earn resources, buy buildings, and ship their goods. Buildings have varying amounts of victory points, and each has its own ability. Once a player buys their fourth building, each player gets one more turn, and the game ends. The player with the most points wins.

Opening the box for the first time was an adventure of exploring the decks, abilities, and high quality parts. Players start with a player board, a meeple, and three goods of their choice. The meeple is the “worker” and travels along the harbor gathering resources, buying buildings, or triggering special abilities. Notes from Dockmaster Schlibble accompany many of the cards. Check out his notes for some laughs, which I won’t spoil here!

The harbor always has six buildings available. Each turn, the player must move their meeple to a new location, and use its ability. If the building they visit has a “buy building” symbol on it, they may choose to buy one of the six buildings. To buy a building, they must ship goods valued highly enough to pay for the building. If, for any reason, they earn more than they spend, the player loses that money.

shippingboard
Image: Rory Bristol

The economy is dynamic, but easy enough to track. The Market board has four resources: fish, lumber, stone, and livestock. When someone ships a resource, its demand decreases, and is moved to a lower value. The more value the resource has, the cheaper it is after it ships. The Market board keeps everything organized for you. The upset comes when another player ships the goods you have been saving, making some of your inventory less valuable, and some more valuable. The inland traders are an optional feature, which allow you to sell just one of each good for $3, no matter their values.

The character cards grant a special ability only usable by their player. They also come with a building, which is usable by all players at a cost. Players who use your building pay you a good of their choice for the privilege. They may pay this fee before OR after the action is completed. Each character also has fun flavor text describing the character. On the reverse of the character cards are generic player cards, which can be used if you don’t want to play with special abilities. The generic player cards are identical. The player cards also host your warehouse, where you store your goods. A player may have between zero and six of any good, but never more than six, and never in the negative.

My favorite card
Image: Rory Bristol

Each building has its own ability, cost, victory point value, and symbol(s). Cards cost between $6 and $12, and have victory scores between 5 and 13. There are four symbols which may appear on the buildings. Coins reduce the cost of future purchases. Anchors are a cumulative markers, which are triggered by the abilities on the buildings. Top Hats allow you to avoid the fees when visiting other players’ buildings. The Warehouse symbols are cumulative, and allow you to keep one shipped good per Warehouse when shipping inventory. Some cards have more than one symbol, making them more desirable to players.

Some strategy tips:
• Players can go straight for points, cashing in big and buying the most expensive buildings available.
• Players can go for many Anchors, increasing the income of goods.
• Players can collect Coins, making each purchase cost progressively less.
• Players who try to collect multiple Warehouses may suffer from insufficient inventory/savings.
• Players should never buy more than one Top Hat, as the effects do not increase.
• Players who prefer to play in a cutthroat manner will diversify, and remain flexible, since all 36 buildings are different.
• Synergy can make or break a game. See below.

building synergy
Image: Rory Bristol

Optimize your collection to take advantage of synergy bonuses, making your income grow faster. Always have plenty of at least two resources, to maintain a viable place in the economy.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

For fun, TMG included the Harbour Master card! Take a selfie, and show the world who’s boss with @TastyMinstrel! Keep the Master card with you during the next game, so opponents know who to fear! Of course, Dockmaster Schlibble has something to say about this. Check out his note, attached to the card above.

Everything you need to play is included in the box, a big benefit in my book. There are 36 buildings in the deck, 14 characters, 4 quality wood meeples, and 20 resource counters. No outside scorekeeper is needed, as the points are printed plainly on the cards.

With a small, well-made box, it can sneak onto almost any gaming shelf, making it a low-impact investment. The cards are easy to shuffle and aren’t too thin. The character cards are pretty beefy, holding up to rough handling very well.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

Harbour also has a single player mode, playing against the Training Dummy. The Training Dummy is actually a competitive opponent, follows easy rules, and players can build strategies built on his turn preferences. Play alone, or with up to three friends. Be prepared for economic chaos with four players. The game becomes a bit of a waiting game, waiting for other players to change the economy to your favor.

TMG suggests ages 10+, but there are a lot of features to track, as well as tracking the progress of opponents. Kids need to be prepared to lose track of the game, and everyone needs to be ready to wait it out when a player has to re-examine the tabletop. I’d suggest 14+ for the most fun play, unless you have young strategists who can keep up.

Harbour is $19.95 on Amazon. The high number of buildings and characters mean that every game is different from the last, providing value beyond the quality pieces and interesting mechanics.

Disclaimer: Tasty Minstrel Games provided a unit for review purposes.

Why People Are Upset About the New Disabled Lego Minifigure

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I’ve written extensively about Lego bricks. I’ve met and interviewed several Lego Master Builders. I’ve been to several of their traveling expo shows. I’ve even spent an afternoon with the talented brick artist Nathan Sawaya.

And because I’m an amputee, you’d think I’d be thrilled about the fact that Lego has finally decided to make a minifig that has a disability. But I’m not. And I guess many parents of disabled children are as disappointed as I am.

What’s the problem? The problem is that in the new Duplo set, Duplo Community People, there is a wide range of people. Many races, many job types, many skin colors. The one disabled figure is an old man in a wheelchair. In the non-disabled world, this might seem like a petty thing to be upset about. But in my world, it means a lot.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

When I was doing my research before my elective amputation, I had trouble finding a prosthetist or physical therapist who would tell me what life would be like for me, once I had one leg. Most of their stories were grim. Most of their patients were elderly. Most were not interested in keeping up with young children and going on hikes on the weekends. I started to feel even more like I would be one of the only amputees in the country.

Then, I dug a bit further. I found some online communities. In the dozen years since my surgery, the media has done a great job of featuring young amputees, and young disabled folks, involved in active lifestyles. I quickly realized I was not the only one. It’s definitely been a huge leap in the right direction.

Then, we get the first-ever disabled Lego person, and it’s back to the elderly person who needs to be pushed around by the younger figure who comes with him.

The audience for Duplo is little kids. My kids switched over to their smaller Lego sets about the time they started school. I would think that Lego would understand their demographic. So why in the world would they proudly have the first disabled figure, when they had the chance to do so much with it, and instead chose the grandfather a preschooler might visit in a nursing home?

This was their big chance to show little people what a truly diverse world looks like. For a preschooler to play with a disabled figure that is a child puts all kinds of new ideas into their heads. Yeah, some kids look different from me. Some have darker or lighter skin. And some might use a wheelchair or crutches to get around. We’re all part of the same world. And we all can be as active as we want.

Photo: Born Just Right Used with Permission
Photo: Born Just Right, used with permission.

I’m not lobbying for an amputee minifigure, although that would be awesome. But come on, Lego folks. Give me a break. Would it have been so hard to make a disabled figure, your first ever, to represent the millions of KIDS who use adaptive equipment to live their lives? Go ahead and include the grandpa. And he can even be in his wheelchair, with his grandson pushing him around. But don’t count him as your big new idea. Those ideas were old news, even a dozen years ago.

If you’d like to have your voice heard, and feel even halfway as passionately about this issue as I do, think about popping over and signing the petition on this page. It’s got a great explanation of what we’d love to see in children’s toys.

Get Ready to Rock Family Game Night With ‘Rock On!’

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

A rock collection always sounds like a fun collection to start, but most kids invariably stop and ask, “But what do I do with it?” Rock On!, a board game developed by Melissa Weisner, has a new expansion that has the answer: Play with it!

Rock On! is both board game and rock collection in one. There are multiple levels of game play, appealing to kids that are pre-readers all the way through elementary age. The simplest level of game play is a matching game, as kids use the game cards to identify 15 types of rocks. As they play, they learn the rock’s name and properties.

The next levels include answering questions that increase in difficulty about geology. My six-year-old was able to answer the first two levels of questions without much trouble. (The ones with words she didn’t know became an opportunity to chat about science concepts we haven’t talked about before.) With only a relatively small number of questions, she was able to memorize some of the answers the more we played, but she doesn’t consider that a downside to the game. She asks to play time and time again.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

I can’t put my finger on the exact reason why, but every time we play Rock On!, my daughter dissolves into giggles. Whether it’s from hearing me trip over some of the rock’s names, or just the joy of playing a fun game together, Rock On! always gets her to smile. She also loves sorting through the 50+ polished rocks that come with the game, and after playing just two or three times, she was able to identify almost all of them.

The newly expanded Rock On! fits the bill of a fun educational game and will spark an interest in geology in every kid that plays it. While $30 may seem like a steep price for a board game, the included rock specimens and accompanying informational cards make it worth it. Pick it up for your next game night and get ready to rock out.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Build Your Own ‘Jurassic World’ With Lego

IMG_7634
Image: Sarah Pinault

I’m a sucker for all things Jurassic World at the moment. So when given the chance to check out one of the associated Lego kits, well, I was on that kit like a Raptor on an Indominus Rex. Ahem.

My five-year-old’s Lego obsession has been well documented, but I have mostly stayed on the peripheries of the actual construction, since my husband shares our son’s enthusiasm and I apparently do it wrong. This time, however, nothing was keeping me from the construction site.

We checked out the T. rex Tracker kit. It has 520 pieces and is rated for 7-12 year olds. My five-year-old has great success with the kits that are rated for six and up, and we have had moderate success with the seven and up kits, so we figured this one was appropriate for his level. The kit comes with two instruction booklets and several different components.

Jurassic Lego
Image: @Lego.com

We put the T. rex himself together first; a handful of pieces and you’re done. In the time it took us to make the rest of the kit, my three-year-old played happily with the fully constructed dinosaur. The T. rex is quite poseable and has snapping jaws, which have become the source of endless merriment in our house. The T. rex Tracker itself is a vehicle featuring an opening cockpit, dinosaur containment cage, and a harpoon-style trap shooter. There is also a motorbike, three minifigures, and accessories such as a torch with flame, briefcase, and tranquilizer gun. For only 520 pieces, the fully constructed models are a decent size. The T. rex stands over five inches tall, the Tracker itself is 6 inches high, 8 inches long, and 3 inches wide, while the motorbike is understandably of minifigure proportions.

Right off the bat, it is obvious that this vehicle is not featured in the movie. In fact, much of the Lego line available in association with Jurassic World does not appear in the movie. Some of the dinosaurs don’t even appear in the movie. Yet, that does not diminish my, I mean, my son’s enjoyment of the kit. He is too young for the movie, so he simply enjoys that it is Lego and it is dinosaurs. I am somewhat obsessed with the movie, and the vehicle’s absence from the story itself just makes me wonder what kind of deleted scenes I’m going to see on my already-ordered DVD.

The Dilophosaurus that incapacitated Dennis Nedry in the first movie is featured in a kit, though not in this movie. The Dilophosaurus kit does contain a Gyro-sphere, heavily featured in this movie. The Indominus Rex Breakout Kit and Raptor Rampage are taken directly from prominent scenes in the movie, and contain some of the better minifigures. Then, the Pteranodon Capture Kit contains elements from the movie, but there is no Pteranodon capture scene that we know of. After talking to a fellow GeekMom who purchased kits for her family, we agreed that the T. rex and Raptor kits were the cream of the crop, for size and relevance of the kits, but also for the coolness of the dinosaurs.

IMG_7630
Image: Sarah Pinault

This is the first Lego kit that I have sat down with from start to finish in well over a decade. As I said before, I usually observe from the sidelines. I found it be utterly addicting. The size of the instruction booklets, though daunting at first, were so well done that it was a snap (and a click) to put together. However, it is definitely not one I could have let my five-year-old free on all by himself. The volume of small pieces and peculiar arrangements would have disgruntled him very quickly without the assistance of a steadier hand, but it is definitely one you could do along with a child under seven.

The T. rex Tracker assembled logically and with great rhythm and symmetry. I have a bit of an obsession with symmetry in life, in everything really, and so watching this piece come together was remarkably soothing. Pieces were color-coded in such a way as to make them easily identifiable, and the process was laid out in an easy-to-understand way. Really, I expect no less from a brand like Lego, but it was nice to have all my assumptions from the past few years of Lego building observations confirmed.

Once fully assembled, it holds together for some quite rough play. There are one or two decorative pieces that do keep coming off, but the main body of the Tracker lends itself to being manhandled at kindergartner-miles-per-hour while chasing a toddler holding a T. rex. After a few weeks of play, we have determined that removing the cage makes it an even more malleable piece in the Lego universe. The cage remains easily attachable for dino-chasing days.

All in all, I am thoroughly impressed with this line. Now I just need to acquire a second set of dinosaurs for myself, I mean, for the younger sibling!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Check Out the Brick Marketplace for Lego Options

Image: Lego
Image: Lego

As any geek or parent knows, it’s sometimes difficult to get the Lego set that you or your kids have your/their heart set on, so it’s great to have options for where to find them. Being an authorized Lego retailer, Brick Marketplace is another viable option for fulfilling your (and your kids’) Lego dreams.

Image: Brick Marketplace
Image: Brick Marketplace

Often cheaper than the Lego online store, Brick Marketplace has featured products and special deals. You can search by theme, age, and category, and also check out minifigs, new arrivals, and sales. The website also tells you how many of each item are in stock, to help you make your purchasing decisions. I love that feature. Plus, with Lego being such a part of our lives, more places to find sets is always a good thing.

I had the chance to try out a set from Brick Marketplace, the Lego Architecture Big Ben. The box was mailed with great care, and the set arrived in perfect condition and brand new. (The Architecture sets are some of my favorites, along with the Creator sets that are houses, and of course, the Volkswagon T1 Camper Van.)

Image: Jenny Bristol
Image: Jenny Bristol

I managed to build the Big Ben set in less than an hour, since there are only 346 pieces. Some of the pieces went together in interesting ways. That’s one of my favorite parts of assembling a Lego set: learning new ways to use the bricks and pieces. “Oh, I wouldn’t have thought to use that piece in that way,” kept coming out of my mouth. As with the other Architecture sets, Big Ben comes with a thick book containing instructions and a really detailed, photo-laden history of the structure.

Image: Jenny Bristol
Image: Jenny Bristol

Next time you’re in the market for a Lego set (like, today, for instance), check out Brick Marketplace. They are competitive in the market, and you can find some real deals. You can also purchase gift certificates for loved ones, and the company has a low price guarantee.

GeekMom received a Lego set for review purposes.

Lego Ninjago Take on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

This short video of Lego Ninjago Kai, a Spinjitsu master, taking on the American Ninja Warrior course is just what you need this Monday morning.

Check out the newest season of Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu on Cartoon Network (check your local listings). Also? There are some very cool new Ninjago sets in the Lego store.

Lego Goes Green and Launches ‘Are You a Lego Maker?’ Challenge

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Makers work on a model of the United States during the National Week of Making. Photo courtesy of Lego, used with permission.

It’s been a busy June for Lego. This week they made the huge announcement that they’re investing $1 billion and creating 100 new jobs to find a sustainable alternative to plastic for their bricks. Lego is trying hard to reduce its carbon footprint, and we think that’s great news from a beloved company that uses 6,000 tons of plastic every year.

Then last week in Washington during the National Week of Making, Lego announced the “Are You a Lego Maker?” prototyping challenge. The company will be giving away 50 “prototyping kits” to makers ages 13 and older. Each kit includes a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit, thousands of Lego bricks and elements, access to a Lego Mindstorms Expert Builder, and a copy of the book Spirit of Invention: The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers Who Formed Our Nation.

Michael McNally, senior director of brand relations for Lego, said:

The same inventive spirit at the core of the maker movement is also at the core of every Lego building experience. The introduction of the Lego Mindstorms robotic toolkit in 1998 accelerated the Lego System of Play as a prototyping tool among builders around the world. Since that time, inventors of all ages and all levels of expertise have prototyped their inventions with Lego robotic sets and bricks, creating everything from a baseball mudder to a braille printer to a pancake maker. Many of these inventors manufactured products based on these prototypes that were often patented and sold to the public, so we look forward to seeing what the next generation of makers builds to life.

To encourage that ingenuity and love of tinkering, Lego launched this contest to give young makers the right tools.

To enter, visit the Lego Maker site and tell them what you want to build. The contest is open to U.S. residents only, and it ends July 13th.

Accessorize Your ‘Inside Out’ Movie Experience With Toys From Tomy!

Inside Out Plush Toys TOMY Joy Anger Sadness Disgust Feat
Inside Out talking plush toys from Tomy. Image: Tomy.

I had the chance to see an early showing of the new Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out last night, and I have to say that the movie immediately moved to the top of my favorite-animated-movies-of-all-time list. I laughed, cried, and laughed some more with my kids doing the same right alongside me.

Note: There might be minor spoilers as to a character in the movie below.

In addition, I had a real movie-to-self connection with the main character, a little girl named Riley. She moved from Minnesota to California as she started middle school, and I moved from New Jersey to North Carolina as I started middle school. I still vividly remember being devastated to leave my friends behind and how I stumbled trying to fit into my new school.

I wanted my families’ move to be joyful, but the whole experience left me sad and angry. Riley experiences many of the same feelings I did, and the other main characters of the movie, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust, work together to manage her emotions in the central headquarters of her brain, as she navigates her new world.

Inside Out Movie Goers
Inside Out excited moviegoers. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Children of all ages are sure to want to reenact some of the scenes from the movie, and Tomy has a new line of toys to let them do just that. There are talking plush toys that represent each of the emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. They range in size from 9 to 14 inches and retail for $19.99 each. They come with 3-button cell batteries already installed and have a very well hidden Velcro pouch for battery replacement, if necessary. You’ll love hearing lines from the movie as you activate their sounds by pressing their right hands.

Tomy also has the Console from Headquarters, which features a Joy figure that lights up when she’s at the Console. What a wonderful glow it has, embracing the warmth from the movie! The Console is for kids 4+ and retails for $19.99. You can also purchase additional figures with memory spheres for more glowing Console fun.

Inside Out Console Toy TOMY
Inside Out Console toy by Tomy. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

In addition to the Console, there is also a Headquarters playset where you can use the projector to bring Riley’s memories to life with the three included memory spheres. Better yet, add the Console to the Headquarters playset to recreate even more scenes from the movie. The Headquarters playset is for kids 4+ and retails for $39.99.

Inside Out Headquarts Toy TOMY
Inside Out Headquarters toy from Tomy. Image: Tomy.

There’s one more important character from the movie to talk about. That’s Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend from her early childhood. For the cuddler in your house, there’s a Bing Bong plush toy from Tomy, too. You’ll also find the other emotion characters in a plush non-talking format.

Bing Bong Inside Out Plush Toy TOMY
Inside Out Bing Bong plush toy from Tomy. Image: Tomy.

If the movie brings a smile to your child’s face, the toys are sure to keep the smile and great memories going. They would also make great gifts for summer birthday parties. Why not share the fun?

Inside Out Toys TOMY
Inside Out toys by Tomy. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

GeekMom received these items for review purposes.

It’s Nerf or Nothing This Summer!

It's NERF or nothing in this house. \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
It’s Nerf or nothing in this house. Image: Dakster Sullivan.

Just in time for summer, my family was given the opportunity to try out a few new Nerf blasters. We like to put anything Nerf through its paces and that means testing its distance, ease of use, and (in some cases by accident) the pain factor. When it comes to the Super Soakers, we enjoy seeing just how wet we can get in a quick game of soaking.

Nerf Zombie Strike FlipFury Blaster
The Nerf Zombie Strike FlipFury Blaster is all mine. Mine. Mine. And I’m not sharing it with anyone in my family. Of all the Nerf blasters I’ve tried out in the past, this is by far my favorite. I love the ability to flip between two rounds of ammo and the cool sound it makes when you switch between them. It’s almost like a warning to anyone who messes with you to stop or pay the price. Each round holds seven darts, with a combined total of 14 before having to reload.

I tested the distance of this blaster one morning when trying to get my son up for school. He refused to get out of bed, so I shot at him from the living room (over 20 feet away) and hit him dead on. He got wise and went for cover under his blankets, which didn’t save him much from my Nerf parenting style. A flip change later, and he was getting up while waving a white flag of defeat.

As long as your aim doesn’t stink and you shoot the darts below the face, it doesn’t hurt as bad as the massive Nerf N-Strike Elite darts. If you happen to be in the sight of an opponent who doesn’t understand the words “NOT THE FACE” ::cough::my son::cough::, watch your language and be ready with some ice, because these darts will leave a welt (as my husband can attest to).

Recommended distance from opponent: 5 feet or more to avoid injury.
Retail: $19.99 (and worth every penny)

Nerf N-Strike Elite Mega CycloneShock Blaster
When it came to testing out the Nerf N-Strike Elite Mega CycloneShock Blaster, I had to add a new ground rule when these are in use. Since the Nerf Elite Mega blasters have darts that look more fearsome than anything else Nerf has put out, close range combat was off limits. The blaster holds six mega darts that have a diameter almost twice that of a normal dart. The power behind this one can launch those suckers up to 90 feet.

NERF dart size comparison.
Nerf dart size comparison. Image: Dakster Sullivan.

Despite having a “no close range” ground rule, that doesn’t mean anyone listened to it. With that said, each of my family members can attest that these suckers hurt when shot. I’d almost say that any Nerf gun with these Mega darts should be off limits to anyone who doesn’t listen to the rules (and considering that my mother’s pups listen better than my 9-year-old son or my 42-year-old husband, it’s safe to say I’m the only one that can play with these now).

To avoid injury, make sure your target is at least 10 feet away when firing.

Recommended distance from opponent: 10 feet or more (preferably more) to avoid injury.
Retail: $21.99

Super Soaker Testing!!
Now, to introduce the Super Soaker part of this review, here is a music video featuring my brother and my son. At one point in the video, my son felt that his Uncle Doug wasn’t getting wet enough with the blaster in hand and resorted to using just the hose on him. Of course, Uncle Doug paid him back for that later.

Nerf Super Soaker FloodFire Blaster
My brother is using the Nerf Super Soaker FloodFire Blaster. This blaster is unique because it allows you to hook it up to a hose and have an endless supply of ammo. Using the hose attachment almost feels like cheating, but who really cares about that in a water gun fight? It’s reach was pretty impressive and it was able to soak my son quite well with little effort on my brother’s part.

Pay attention at the :20-second mark in the video and you can see my brother turn the hose feature on and off. He remarked that you can only keep the hose on for a minute and after that you need to turn the function off or the blaster won’t work properly.

The only issue I have is if you are running around the yard and attached to a hose, it creates a serious safety issue. Because of that, I would say if you want to use the hose attachment feature, make sure your shooter stays in the same place (or only moves from side to side).

Recommended distance from opponent: None. It’s water, so you’re not as likely to hurt someone with this one.
Retail: $25.99

Nerf Super Soaker ZombieStrike Splatterblast
In the video, my son is using the Nerf Super Soaker Zombie Strike Splatterblast water blaster. This blaster can produce four streams of opponent-soaking water at once. I found that some of the nozzles were glitchy, depending on the water level in the gun. However, if you aimed it up a little when shooting, you could get a good stream each time. It was the easier of the two guns for my son to hold and he loved being able to run around with it.

A cool feature of this blaster is with a couple batteries and the push of a button, the water tank can light up. Making this worth the batteries would mean playing at night though, so we are ignoring that feature for now.

Recommended distance from opponent: None.
Retail: $21.99

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Lego Announces Release Date for Fan-Designed ‘Big Bang Theory’ Set

Image credit: Lego.com
Image credit: ideas.lego.com

This week Lego announced an August 1st release date for the much-anticipated Big Bang Theory set, which was submitted and voted upon through Lego’s Cuusoo project*.

Earlier this month, Lego released preview images from the set, revealing everything from Howard’s smirky face to Raj’s dog, Cinnamon. Fans will enjoy all the details embedded throughout the set, between the Chinese food containers, one of Howard’s unique belt buckles (the press release photos are showing a game controller buckle), and the equation-filled white board.

Who do we need to thank for such creativity? Alatariel from Sweden and Glen Bricker from the USA, who both have submitted numerous other designs through Lego Ideas, came up with this great design that Lego is now bringing to life.

The set is expected to retail for $59.99.

*The Lego Cuusoo program was re-designated the “Lego Ideas” project about one year ago. Any Lego fan can design and submit ideas through the Lego Ideas website. Simply create an account, assemble a set, take lots of good photos, and garner support. You need 10,000 votes for the set to move on to the Lego review phase. With the Lego Ideas account, you can also browse submitted ideas and vote for your favorites. If your set is chosen to go into production, you can expect to earn 1% from sales.

Blast Into Summer With Nerf’s Latest!

Our sampling of Nerf summer products! Summer arrived quite literally on June 1st here in Colorado Springs. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Our sampling of Nerf summer products. Summer arrived on June 1st here in Colorado Springs. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

My sons were thrilled when a box full of Nerf products appeared at our door about three weeks ago. We unpacked a Mega BigShock blaster, Zombie Strike Flip Fury blaster, the FireVision Ignite flying disc, and a Super Soaker Flash Flood water gun.

Sadly, while those east of the Mississippi were enduring a pretty incredible heat wave, we here on the front range of the Rockies were dealing with cold, wet conditions. Our neighborhood had accumulating hail, record rains, and an average temperature of only 52.3F. Yikes!

It wasn’t until this past weekend that my sons were able to truly break out their new blasters and give them a whirl.

My oldest son quickly claimed the Mega BigShock. This is his first blaster that takes the large red “Mega” darts, and he is thrilled to finally have one! Included with the blaster itself are two whistler darts, and my son wasted no time buying himself a package of dart refills with his own money.

DSC_0213
The Mega BigShock blaster is small but packs a punch! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
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This little guy can send its darts across the length of our backyard (80 feet) and even over the fence! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

My youngest son took the FireVision Ignite flying disc out for a spin. Literally! This flying disc is a standard size, but has a battery pack tucked into the back. The disc comes with three A76 batteries ready to go (pull out the protective tab before turning on), and you have a disc that lets you play in low light conditions. I could see this being a perfect thing for an evening on the beach, nighttime tailgates, and good old-fashioned summer play as the sun sets.

My youngest son shows off the Nerf FireVision Ignite flying disc in its well-lit glory. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
My youngest son shows off the Nerf FireVision Ignite flying disc in its well-lit glory. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Nerf’s Super Soaker FlashFlood hits victims with a double-whammy of water: Out of the same 23 oz. reservoir, there’s a bottom pump that fires off a traditional stream of water, but you can also use a top launcher that blasts your opponents with a “flash flood” of water. Or, as my son said, “A whole mess of water!” The streams are advertised to travel nearly 40 feet, and my oldest son, who claimed the FlashFlood as his own, proclaimed that he thinks it works as advertised.

The Nerf Super Soaker FlashFlood water blaster. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The Nerf Super Soaker FlashFlood water blaster. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Nerf's Zombie Strike Flipfury double-revolver dart blaster. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Nerf’s Zombie Strike Flipfury double-revolver dart blaster. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Finally, there’s the Nerf Flipfury dart blaster, the company’s latest in the immensely popular Zombie Strike line. My youngest son enjoys the Flipfury, which holds 12 of the traditional Nerf blaster darts in two 6-dart revolver drums. The double triggers look bewildering at first, but you will fire the darts with the top trigger, and use the bottom trigger to flip the revolvers back and forth. The darts travel fast and far, routinely exceeding the 80-foot length of our backyard.

My son’s feedback on the blaster is that loading was easy, and he has yet to experience any dart jams. He’s happy with it.

So where can you get your own Nerf blasters and flying discs? Look no further than your local big box retailer or online through outlets such as Toys ‘R Us or Amazon. To sum up:

– The Mega BigShock is small in size, includes two whistling “Mega” darts, and retails for $7.99.
Nerf’s FireVision Ignite flying disc lights up for fun evening play with an MSRP of $14.99.
– The Super Soaker FlashFlood allows for traditional water gun play with a flash flood option to really soak your opponents. It retails for $19.99.
– The Zombie Strike Flipfury has a double barrel revolver feature that lets users carry double the dart load, with an MSRP of $19.99.

GeekMom was provided with samples of these products for review purposes.

Unboxing Wonder Woman

Items unboxed. Photo by Corrina Lawson.

Loot crates are all the rage now. So when I saw the Wonder Woman hero box on Superherostuff.com, I decided to join the throng and see what the fuss was about, especially as it was advertised as $70 worth of stuff for $49.

I have two major thoughts on the Wonder Woman box.

One, there is awesome stuff and I’ll use every bit of it, especially the keychain and the water bottle, which will see daily use. The Wonder Woman doll will go on my writing desk, where my collection of Jim Gordon figures will be her Queensguard. Diana can also chat with my Nora Roberts bobblehead and roll their eyes at the world ruled by men.

Additionally, there was the fun of opening it, as you can see in the video, which features guest appearances by two of my minions and Smokey the cat. I apologize for the flip halfway through. I blame the cat, who had to get in on the action. I had to adjust my camera hand to shoo him away.

Second thought: The box is a bargain, but not spectacularly so. I’m a frugal New Englander. What I consider a bargain is the $60 I paid for $180 worth of clothes at the Bon Ton Department store after-Christmas sale. This box would have to be priced much lower, between $20 to $30 for me to rave about what a bargain it is.

But it is a great loot crate and does provide value for the cost.

The items inside:

  • Wonder Woman T-shirt—women’s XL size
  • Wonder Woman 32 oz. water bottle
  • Wonder Woman decal (not for painted surfaces)
  • Wonder Woman keychain
  • Wonder Woman plushie doll
  • Wonder Woman socks
  • Wonder Woman eraser that is too cute to use
  • 2 Wonder Woman pins
  • Wonder Woman comic—JLA #63, which is from the Joe Kelly/Dough Mahnke run
  • A mystery coupon code for up to 25 percent off, good for 30 days.

This would make a tremendous gift for Mother’s Day, birthdays, and holidays. My kids wanted to divide up the stuff once we opened the box, but it’s mine, all mine.

Superherostuff.com also offers hero boxes for lots of DC and Marvel Heroes, as well as limited-edition boxes, such as this month’s box for Marvel’s Secret Wars.

GeekMom received this item for review.

The BB-8 Toy Coming to a Store Near You Soon!

BB-8 Interpretation
BB-8 Interpretation. Drawing By: Johnny Goldman

I have a new obsession, and it’s BB-8.  I watched the latest Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer at least 10 times, and my biggest take-away was the new, super cute, and wonderfully round droid, BB-8. Watch out R2-D2, you’ve got some competition!

This week, I’ve been on a quest to seek out all things BB-8 from understanding the technology behind him to who’s got the best t-shirt design. New products seem to be popping up by the minute. How exciting!

Sphero
Sphero Photo: Sphero

I learned that conceptually BB-8 maneuvers similarly to Sphero—“The app-enabled ball that does it all.” That’s right, there’s already a cute, round robot toy on the market complete with apps to move him around, change his colors, and for gaming fun. He’s quite versatile!

What I was even more excited to find out, though, is that Sphero is designing a BB-8 look-alike toy. If you’re as interested as I am, and already anticipating the biggest item on your child’s holiday wish list, then you’ll want to sign-up for e-mail updates on product availability.  “This is the droid you’re looking for.”

Currently, you can pick up a Sphero 2.0 for $112.99 on Amazon.

Giveaway! ‘Star Wars’ Commemorative Collection Action Figure Set

Episode IV Commemorative Figures © Hasbro/Lucasfilm/Disney
Episode IV Commemorative Figures © Hasbro/Lucasfilm/Disney

As you can tell, GeekMom is a huge fan of Star Wars, and we are overjoyed at the chance to share our enthusiasm with you today on Star Wars Day.

A few weeks ago, Disney, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Fox sent us a box packed with goodies from a galaxy far, far away, and today we want to share the Star Wars wealth.

This is your chance to win the complete set of Digital Edition Commemorative Collection action figures from all six movies.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

To enter our giveaway, just log in to the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email so we can let you know if you win). You can then like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and leave a comment about your favorite Star Wars film for up to three entries! If you already like/follow us, it will still enter you in the giveaway.

A winner will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and displayed below. You must reply to the email notification within two days in order to be considered a winner.

U.S. entries only. Contest ends May 9, 2015.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Special thanks again to Disney, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Fox for providing the collection.