My son will pretty much do anything to get his hands on my iPad. He has plenty of his own devices, but that doesn’t keep him from ogling my iPad’s big, beautiful screen and whatever apps I’m checking out. I don’t mind forking it over if he’s using it wisely. Like I said, he has plenty of other portables for comics, books, and games. However, Storied Myth is a good reason to give up my precious portable. This is an iOS exclusive that combines reading with hands-on activities.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
Star Wars Celebration is set to happen next month and it will feature all sorts of amazing Star Wars goodness, including this mural. It’s the work of artist Robert Burden, who spent 2,000 hours over 18 months to see it to completion.
The work measures 15-by-8 feet and is an oil painting tribute to all those classic Kenner toys we played with when we were kids. There are over 150 characters and vehicles represented in their original forms, so you’ll immediately recognize them from playing on your bedroom floor.
Although his focus was vintage toys, he wasn’t limited by them and included some more modern Hasbro toys like Qui-Gon Jinn, Queen Amidala, and Darth Maul. There are also images that aren’t Star Wars at all, but hat-tips to things that influenced the franchise. You’ll find a toy Nazi solider in there and Yul Brynner from The Magnificent Seven.
This incredible work will be on display for the first time at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim from April 16-19. It will also be for sale if you want to take it home, but will cost you a whopping $200,000. If you can’t afford that without wiping out the college fund, then head over to Burden’s website, where you can buy a limited edition 24-by-36-inch print for $250.
There are only 200 being made and each is signed, numbered, and stamped, making it a very special Star Wars collectible.
The latest cool build to go up for voting on Lego Ideas is one that’s sure to appeal to anyone who grew up in the ’80s and spent hours pumping quarters into a machine at the local arcade. It’s a set of three arcade games especially for Sega fans.
The first game is Space Harrier which was released in 1985 and designed by Yu Suzuki. It used what they called Super Scaler technology to give things a 3D effect. In the deluxe version of the game, the whole cabinet moved as the player moved the joystick so this Lego version moves left, right, up, down, and tilts.
There’s also Out Run which came out in 1986 and was also designed by Yu Suzuki. This time the cabinet moved according to how you turned the wheel in the racing game so this model moves left and right.
The last game is Thunder Blade which came out in 1987 and had a seat that rotated to match your motions as you piloted a helicopter. This model follows suit with a seat that rotates in a circle.
The set even includes three minifigs. Set designer SpacySmoke made a Male Sega Fan, Female Sega Fan, and a miniature Yu Suzuki to immortalize the game designer in Lego form.
The set needs 10,000 votes to be considered for production by Lego. You can lend your support and help make this set something that we all can play with one day.
It’s a lot of fun to get creative at the holidays and make the ornaments that decorate your Christmas tree. Artist Chris McVeigh has some great ideas for adding a little Lego flair to those decorating efforts. His latest nerdy offering is a trio of classic arcade machine ornaments in a festive red, yellow, and green.
Those aren’t the only designs that will delight your inner Christmas nerd. He’s also got a TARDIS for all you Whovians and the Death Star and Millennium Falcon for Star Wars fans still giddy over that new trailer. If you and your kids love playing with Lego bricks, then these designs are sure to provide plenty of fun getting the tree ready for the holidays.
Even better, McVeigh has made all of his designs available as completely free PDF downloads on his site. He’s got all his nerdy designs and some that look like the more traditional balls and baubles that decorate our trees.
There are also some designs available for purchase in his store that include all the bits needed to make each ornament so you don’t have to work at pulling the pieces out of that giant Lego bin overflowing in your child’s closet.
When my now two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Hannah first transitioned into that stage when she was too old for her baby toys but not quite ready for the whole magical world of preschool toys, her dad and I were a little stumped. What do toddlers play with other than anything that’s dangerous or valuable to their parents?
We experimented a lot, especially since my daughter has some sensory and motor planning issues. We’d stuck somewhat closely to the age recommendations on toys, until her speech therapist told us to challenge her. Then we found wonderful toys that skewed older but were fine if introduced with adult supervision, toys that were right on target for her age, and toys that were more like whole experiences that will grow with her.
There are so many great toys out there, but here are the things our daughter plays with incessantly (I’ve listed the retail prices, but almost all of them are available on Amazon for less):
Tolo Teatime Shape Sorter: An instant hit. It’s strangely pricey for a teapot, but it’s absolutely indestructible. First Hannah used it as a shape and color sorter, then it evolved into her first tea set. Now she serves us imaginary drinks daily, usually out of the same designated cup for each of us. $35.99
Little People Disney Princess Klip Klop Stable: A second birthday present from a classmate, we weren’t sure about this one. Disney Princesses hadn’t made an appearance yet at our house, and we were completely okay with that. But the Little People horses and riders are almost hypnotically fun. We bought all of the extra princesses, and the little ramps they came with made the princesses into great bathroom toys while potty training, too. $39.99
Fisher-Price Barnyard Bingo: Our speech therapist introduced us to this one. It’s meant as a multiplayer version of Bingo, but we found that it’s great for vocabulary practice. Hannah is obsessed with farm animals and this is a nice, portable toy for matching colors and animals. $20.99
Melissa and Doug Shopping Cart: We learned the hard way how loud this can be on wood floors, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We’ve shopped out of the kitchen cupboards with this, Hannah has transported her prized possessions around in it, and sometimes she just likes to race around the kitchen pushing it. Such great quality, and I love that it’s metal instead of plastic. $69.99
Crayola Color Wonder Travel Tote: My mom and I took a road trip with my daughter this summer and stopped at the Crayola Experience. I stocked up at the gift shop and bought this travel clipboard set so Hannah could color in the car and not make a mess. We don’t leave the house without it now. A lifesaver on car trips and in restaurants. $13.99
VTech Go! Go! Smart Animals Zoo Explorer: This set is fun and substantial. It lives in my sewing studio, so my daughter can hang out and play while I work. I wish all of these big playsets came with more than one figure or car in the box. We bought extra animals for $7.99 each, and that felt like more of a sting than usual for extras. But it can keep a two-year-old busy for quite a while. $39.99
Symphony in B: I remember seeing this on a best toy list a few years ago, and then the music teacher at my old school had it to use with students. I loved it immediately, and now at home we have classical dance parties with it. It also turned into a great fine motor skill tool, as my daughter learned how to line up all the instruments in their slots. $99.99 (I’ve never actually seen it for this much; it’s usually significantly lower.)
Land of Nod Home Sweet Home Play Canopy: We loved the idea of a tent as a second birthday present, and this ceiling-suspended version is covered with stars and kind of magical. Hannah spends lots of good kid time in it. I wish I had one in an adult size. $199 with cushion
Melissa and Doug Deluxe Latches Puzzle: All Melissa & Doug wood puzzles wear like iron and feel so great in the hand. This lock puzzle is my daughter’s favorite, and I’ve given it as a gift to other toddlers. They all love it. If you need a few minutes to grab a shower or catch up on email, give this to your toddler to occupy their time. $24.99
Doc McStuffins Get Better Checkup Center: Last summer, I started singing the praises of this play vet’s office after seeing it at a toy preview and didn’t stop telling people about it until New Year’s. Almost a year later, Hannah still plays with this Christmas present every day. It was her first real non-baby toy, and it’s been one of the most successful things we’ve ever given her. $99.99
LeapFrog Shapes and Sharing Picnic Basket: I’ve lost track of how many picnics we’ve had on our living room floor with this set. It was one of those toys we picked up as a treat one day at Target and for nearly a year now, it has regularly seen action. $21.99
Playmobil My Secret Playbox Horse Stable: This was a recent acquisition that made me nervous at first. There are so many small pieces, but after playing it together with Hannah a few times, we realized she had no interest in trying to eat them. This is one of those know-your-child toys. If they’re still putting everything in their mouths, skip this one. If not, it’s a really sweet little horse stable with tons of little tools for grooming and feeding. It’s another one that gives a surprising amount of language practice, and the best part is that the whole thing (with all of those little pieces) folds up into a lockable box for storage. $27.99
Crayola 24 Count Sidewalk Chalk: Sidewalk chalk is always great for a sunny, not-too-cold day. But the Crayola colors are incredibly vibrant. And the shape of each chalk stick is like a rectangular crayon, so the pieces won’t roll all over your driveway. Sometimes nothing beats an afternoon on the ground outside making chalk scribbles. $7.29
Scrambled Eggs Shape Sorting Fun: This turned out to be another great travel toy. You will spend some time looking under seats for the occasional missing egg half, but we’ve taken this in the car, on the plane, in restaurants, everywhere. It fits in a purse or bag and is a really nice, distracting activity to get those fine motor skills going. $12.74
Little Partners Learning Tower: This isn’t a toy, but it has provided loads of quality play time together in the kitchen. A year ago, we added this to our kitchen and it’s the best piece of equipment in it. Now my daughter can stand on a step stool without falling off, but she still wants to be in her tower whenever we have kitchen time. The adjustable height means she can always be perfectly positioned to play with her little pots and pans and felt food, or to help me roll out pie dough or make a cake. $199.99
What toys do your little ones love?
Disclaimer: GeekMom received some items for review purposes.
Guardians of the Galaxy officially opened this weekend and it’s pretty fair to say that people have loved the film. No, I haven’t seen it but my excuse is a really good one, as I was out of the country until Friday. I’m going with my family in about an hour so my nerd cred is firmly in tact, thank you very much.
If the rave reviews from everyone along with the trailer that has us all hooked on a feeling weren’t enough (oh come on, I had to), then this Lego version of the trailer is certain to get you into the theater if you haven’t seen the movie already. If it doesn’t, then what is wrong with you? This movie looks like a ridiculous amount of fun! Also, Lego Rocket Raccoon is adorable.
We have YouTuber forrestfire101 to thank for this scene-by-scene recreation of the movie trailer. Now, off I go to pay too much for popcorn and a vat of soda.
Last week we announced Monster Factory’s Kickstarter for their new collectible toy line The Mythicals. Funding for the dragon, unicorn, and Cthulhu was reached in six days! So now the Canadian company wants to keep the party going and raise enough funds to add another Mythical to the toy line.
Keeping with the tradition of this crowdsourced toy line, Monster Factory will be having a naming party for Pegasus on their Facebook page today. And there is still plenty of time to donate to their Kickstarter. Even if you have already pledged to receive a Mythical, you will be able to choose Pegasus once the Kickstarter ends.
When a new Transformers movie comes out, there’s one thing in my household that gets critiqued more than the movie itself…the toy-line.
My husband has been an avid collector of Transformers since he can remember. With that in mind, you can imagine the look on his face when a box with Transformers written all over it arrived at our house unexpectedly. The box itself was a work of art, and I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it (which is why it now holds two of my costumes).
Inside of the box was a humble sampling of what is to come with the toy-line, from the new one-step-changers to the more complicated pieces.
My son was crazy excited over the simplicity and ease of transforming the new one-step-changers and was quick to claim every toy in in the box for himself. My husband and I didn’t buck him on that because when we took one of the one-step-changers out of the box, we were more critical of it than a comic book fan on Reddit.
The difference between my husband and son is that my husband enjoys the beauty in the details and the complicated steps for the transformation. My son doesn’t look at a Transformer and see a piece of art; he sees a toy that he wants to play with, and he doesn’t want to look at instructions in order to do it.
As a parent who has no clue how to transform these things, the old line frustrated me because I couldn’t help my son when he needed it. As bad as it sounds, I’d have to wait for my husband to come home to pull out the instructions and do it himself.
Regardless of my own reservations regarding the new line’s design, I’m happy that Hasbro has finally come out with a line of Transformers that can be transformed by the ages they specify on the packaging.
While playing with the Flip and Change Grimlock, I thought about my 9-year-old nephew who has a disability with one of his hands that makes it difficult for him to play with certain action figures. He could never play with the old toy lines because of how difficult it was for him to do the transformations with his bad hand. The new one-step-changers, on the other hand, are something he can play with and work out his hand at the same time.
From the toy collector side of things, this new line lacks the details of the older lines. Arms and legs are clearly visible when in vehicle mode and the movement capability in robot mode is ridiculously restricted.
From the view of a child, the new line is awesome and just what Optimus ordered.
My second favorite Transformer in the box was the one-step-changer Grimlock. He was too cute not to love. My son wasn’t that interested in him because he’s really small, so I was able to take him to my office with little argument. I posted a picture of him on my desk on Instagram and laughed when a friend of mine asked if I got him at Burger King or McDonald’s.
For kids who like to build, Kreo sets are a fun alternative to Lego bricks. I’d buy stock in them if they were softer on your feet (which they are not…). On the upside, they work with Lego sets so you don’t have to worry about them getting mixed up when it comes to clean up time.
The battle arena is a fun activity for kids who are into the Hexbug line of toys. I can see the added accessories being a problem, though, because they are itty-bitty in size. Neither of the bugs looks like their cartoon counterpart with exception of the paint job, but they are still fun to watch (for about five minutes…).
In the end, I’ve decided that this line was designed with the younger fans in mind. For many children, this will give them a new sense of independence when they want their Transformers to “roll out” or “transform.” Collectors who appreciate the complex transformations and hidden details, should probably skip this line for now, but keep their eyes open for more complex Transformer toys to come.
Toy prices range from $2.99 for Kreo figures to $49.99 for the larger and more complicated Transformer models.
Canadian toy company Monster Factory is launching a Kickstarter campaign today to bring The Mythicals to life, and to celebrate we’ve got a special coupon code for their online store.
This is the same Toronto-based company behind the mini monsters I’m in love with. After some heated voting on their Facebook page, Monster Factory’s Kickstarter will focus on producing a dragon, a unicorn, and Cthulhu as the first Mythicals in its new line. These are fantastic full-size monsters, about 10 inches tall.
I had the chance to preview Cthulhu, and my daughter has been walking around the house with him for weeks. She loved the mini monsters and now loves the full-size Cthulhu. They are collectible toys, but if you’re wondering—since it is impossible to keep things away from small hands—they are also toddler-proof.
There was also a Facebook campaign to name the monsters (or in Cthulhu’s case, nickname him):
The company has everything lined up to put The Mythical into production and get them shipped to backers this fall. They are hoping to raise $12,000 for this special “Studio Edition” series (and hopefully there will be more Mythicals down the line). If funding is met, the line will be launched exclusively with Kickstarter, complete with special Kickstarter labels on The Mythicals. Creative director Alan Dunn thinks Kickstarter is ideal for this new line:
“At Monster Factory, we have always valued our close relationship with our fans. Whether in person or online, we look for new ways to engage them in our creative process, so Kickstarter is a perfect platform for our new line of monsters, the Mythicals. On this project, we will be able to involve our fans in every step of the process—from choosing and naming the characters, to working through the production and fulfillment sides of things. With our fans’ help, we are extremely excited to bring this new line of mythical creatures to life!”
There are lots of Lego sets, but your pockets are only so deep and your house has only so much space. What to do? Now you can rent your favorite Lego sets so your kids have new ways to explore and create all the time.
It’s sort of like Netflix, but with Lego sets and it’s a brilliant idea. Pley has hundreds of different sets from which you can choose. You simply put the sets you want in a queue, and when you send back one set, then the next goes out to you and should arrive in just 2-3 business days.
Once you sign up for the service, you get a one month free trial before your monthly subscription starts. The subscription costs are broken down into sets that are small ($15), medium($25), or large($39). The really cool part is that there’s no limit to how long you keep a set. If your kid hates it, then send it right back. If they like it, then keep it for long as you choose. If your child absolutely falls in love with a set, you can even purchase it at a discount.
They’ve already got a couple of issues covered, things I’m sure that popped into your mind right away. Each set is completely sanitized before it goes out so you’re not getting a germ-filled toy, and if you lose a piece (up to 15 pieces actually), there’s no need to panic as it’s covered.
Unfortunately, they haven’t figured out how to avoid impaling your foot on a Lego brick in the middle of the night. If that happens, then you’re on your own.
The latest addition to my family’s Nerf arsenal are the Nerf N-Strike Mega Magnus and N-Strike Elite Centurion blaster. The Centurion is almost as tall as my 8-year old son, while the Magnus reminds me a lot of Starlord’s gun in Guardians of the Galaxy.
What makes these guns really special are the darts and their shooting range.
The darts are twice the size of a regular Nerf dart and whistle when shot. Both blasters bring the heat with an impressive shooting distance of 100 feet and 85 feet respectively. The downside to both the size of the dart and the shooting range is the sting that happens when you get hit at close range. My husband and son learned the hard way that shooting each other at point-blank range wasn’t the brightest idea they’ve had all year. I’ve actually had to make a rule (that is rarely followed) that players must be a minimum of 6-feet from their intended target.
The sniper-like N-Strike Elite Centurion measures in at a whopping 39-inches in length and packs six darts in a clip. Since my son is only around 54-inches, you could say it’s a little difficult for him to cock a dart into position. Despite the problems he has holding the blaster and loading it, he still has a lot of fun when playing with it. My husband, who stands at 5-foot 8-inches, can handle it with ease and has no problem taking advantage of our son’s lag time when reloading his blaster.
The Nerf N-Strike Mega Magnus blasters are a bit easier to carry, load, and cock after each shot. This blaster holds up to three darts at a time and sounds really cool when you lock and load. It took my son a few practice games to cock this one right, but he’s since mastered the pullback action it takes to prep it for shooting.
The Magnus blaster is my favorite of the two, because it’s easier to handle than the larger Centurion blaster. I wish it held more than three darts at a time, but oh well. I stuff extra darts in my pockets for reloading.
While the darts are a plus for their size, the design is a bit flimsy. I suggest you purchase a backup set of darts for more fun when you wear out the darts that come with the blasters.
Of all the toys in our house right now, I have to say that the Nerf N-Strike Centurion and Mega Magnus blasters are my favorites because of the fun I’ve had watching my husband and son play with them. I’ve jumped in to a few games, too (and played double agent a few times). They never know whose side I’m really on until it’s to late for them.
If your family is looking to add a new Nerf blaster to your arsenal, make sure you check out the Nwef N-Strike Elite Centurion an Magnus blasters. Both blasters are available at your local toy retailer and on Amazon for $49.99 (Centurion) and $15.99 (Magnus).
For safety reasons, I encourage all players to wear safety-glasses when playing with any Nerf blaster. Better safe on the battlefield than sorry in the emergency room.
Welcome to the second Fund This! of June. In this edition the theme is hacking the norm. Meet Generation Grit, a company that’s trying to expand the options of role models for boys in the toy industry. Check out Good and Cheap, where eating healthy and well can be done on $4 a day. Finally, take a peek at a 3D printer that uses a new tech method and an iPad app to make designing and printing even more accessible to kids and teachers. Happy funding!
It is not enough to change the role models girls are given; we must also change the role models given to boys. It is not enough to empower girls, but to shrug at the macho, one-dimensional examples guiding our boys to manhood. Apparently, Laura Hale has also had enough. Reminiscent of another toy line based in historical adventure and storytelling for girls, Generation Grit seeks to take the classic action toy, give him a cool backstory, and engage boys in a creative storyline about character values. Not in the weird way, in the alternative-to-machismo way. Show some diversity in interests and strengths in men, perhaps? Stellar idea, in my opinion as the mother of two boys. Also, the packaging and accessories are gorgeous.
Now, my boys are a bit older and don’t play with toys much anymore, but I showed them this campaign and they were very interested in the book plot. My younger son even liked the idea of having the action figure for “display.” Is that code for “I like it, but I don’t want to admit it in front of my older brother?” Anyway, he is just the kid I would buy this for: full of humor, sensitive to other people’s stories, imaginative, and creative. In fact, he is really into Marvel right now, but what he loves most is the backstory, not the action. So, if you also think it’s about time we start expanding toy choices for boys, I urge you to check this out. Act fast—there’s only a few days left!
This is one of those campaigns that makes a difference. The PDF version of Good and Cheap (a cookbook on how to eat well on $4 a day) is already available for free. Go download it. It is genius. But this campaign isn’t for those who have the ability to do that. It is a living well effort to bring this information to the thousands of families living on food stamps through a hard copy version that will be distributed to agencies across the nation. The more money that campaign organizer Leanne Brown raises, the more families she can impact. I probably don’t need to lecture on the importance of eating whole, fresh food, but for many, it seems like a luxury. Brown has made eating healthy accessible and affordable. I completely support her effort. Selfishly, I checked out her book, since my own family has had to move to a much stricter budget—and was pleasantly surprised. Simple, easy to follow, not a problem substituting gluten-free ingredients. Good and cheap.
The other GeekMoms will tell you that this campaign ignited a bit of a quandry for me. It is well over its funding goal and for good reason. It has a great platform: A 3D printer designed for kids! I am including it because what I hope is that it is a better entry point for 3D printing for many teachers and families who have no background in 3D printing. I also love the entirely new thing they have done with it—using an iPad app to design and print. Perfect for young hands. At our Oakland Lab, which was designed and built for kids, we use a PrintrBot Simple, Mendel Max 2, and a TypeA Machines 2014 Series 1, and the kids must learn to not only run them, but also fix them. My only concern, and one that I hope the creators take seriously, is the technical support they provide. 3D printers take a lot of tinkering—a lot. Makers who are buying this, presumably to have an easy, user-friendly experience (and not just for the fun primary colors), will become easily frustrated if these are as finicky as many other printers. That said, welcome to the market, Printeer!
Please forgive my cursing, but I am a Breaking Bad fan. If you love the show like I love the show, you’d get the above reference—and maybe even the action figure pictured above.
This is the newly announced Jesse Pinkman 6-inch collectible action figure, which is coming soon from Mezco Toyz. It’s Jesse dressed in his best blue hazmat suit and comes with a teeny gas mask, a container of chili powder, and a sizable batch of Blue Sky. According to Mezco Toyz, it’s a limited piece, so you might want to snag one when it starts popping up in comic book shops in late July. Otherwise, Amazon plans to start shipping pre-orders on August 20, 2014.
Now, I have to admit: The competing Entertainment Earth Jesse Pinkman figure may be slightly cooler, but it’s also $31 more. For that, you get the orange jumpsuit, a gas mask, a tub of the blue stuff, and a package with a Vamonos Pest sleeve. You’ll also get a bit of a wait, since that one won’t start shipping until October.
There have been many posts and grumblings online regarding the ever-present gender-specific policy of Happy Meals from McDonald’s, which have increased with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Being responsible GeekMoms, we have an ongoing interest in examining gender stereotypes in toys. A post from last August took on the issue of the girl-focused Lego Friends line; Building on Her Own Terms: From Lego Foe to Lego Friends. The real-world results of Cristen Pantano and her journey of acceptance is one I can relate to with my own preschool geekling girl. Whether it be pink or red Legos, the thrill of seeing a new skill set blossom which was thought to primarily belong to sons and not daughters is greater than the sum of a few misplaced artistic choices and packaging fumbles.
To get to the bottom of the Mc-noise about the Happy Meals, I decided to brave the slings and arrows from those who boycott fast food to get to the bottom of this not-so-happy meal issue. We’re not a family that eschews McDonald’s. There is a certain nostalgic comfort in those golden arches. But it did catch me off-guard when the pleasant young employee asked if I was buying “for a boy or girl.”
We opted to buy both versions and found that Ella, my daughter, really wasn’t into the massive wind-up spider that came with the boy-themed meal. She did, however, love her purple hair clip with the Spider-Man insignia and immediately put on her black webbed headband. I was a bit disappointed in her choice to shun the spider, since she had more recently been playing with a friend, who is a boy, and came home wanting a remote-controlled tarantula that climbs the wall—so much so, it made her Christmas list (in May!). The flights of fancy of a 3-year-old do change quickly.
Another change I noticed recently is her vocabulary for toys and clothes in general. She has begun placing most things in either “boy” or “girl”categories. This was a little heartbreaking for me. I tried to explain that items do not have to sit in one gender or the other. I reinforced that it’s okay for her friends who are boys to like pink, just as it’s okay for her to wear superhero shirts. Still, she has become adamant about gender assignments. It may be a battle that I lose, but I will keep on trying to neutralize the playing field.
So it bothered me a little to discover that McDonald’s still offers boy or girl Happy Meals. It’s not the gender-predictable colors of the toys that bother me; I wrote a piece not too long ago explaining that in our house, “pink” is not a four-letter word. My concerns are about gender-assigned content. My feelings aside, Ella was pleased to have a choice in toys and ultimately went with the girl theme. This left me thinking that it may make more sense for McDonald’s to offer an “option A” or “option B” meal, leaving gender labels out. Gender neutrality could even lead to more sales and happy parents. Going forward with change, it would be wise of Ronald to remember that “with great meals comes great responsibility.”
Mc-fumbles and gender strides aside, my GeekMom Spidey senses were tingled enough by the Spider-Man 2 toys to create this short review with my 3-year-old daughter.
Recently, GeekMoms Cathé and Sarah talked up their various attic treasures. I’m always fascinated by these little attic adventures; it’s like your own personal Storage Wars. I’m excited to offer up something similar, but mainly because I need some help.
First, a little back-story: Back in September, my father died. Over Thanksgiving, my sister, brother, and I were together, so we made time to go through some of his things. It was all of 15 minutes.
See, my dad wasn’t much of a saver. He had a few pictures and cards, an old lighter, yearbooks, and a few other mementos. He had some blank stationary paper from when I was a kid, with pictures of animals (mostly monkeys) with funny sayings on them. It wasn’t much, but he was more about experiences than keeping actual, physical stuff.
At one point, we were up in the attic area above the garage, which was mostly packed with my brother’s college junk. However, there was one little box off to the side. Inside, we found eight smaller boxes—and I was instantly whisked back to my childhood.
Each of these teeny boxes isn’t much bigger than a matchbox. However, they are packed with the most wonderful wooden toys, in the shapes of different animals. My collection includes kangaroos, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, polar bears, monkey, tigers, and an actual zoo kit.
These toys are really small, the kind that would most certainly be deemed a choking hazard by today’s standards. I am 98-percent sure that they were sent to me from my aunt, who spent a lot of my childhood in Saudi Arabia. She would send us toys from time to time. Some were ornate and would sit upon the mantle in my room; others were downright frightening and placed in a box. However, these particular toys would be played with, cherished, and some 30-plus years down the line, found in a box in the attic above the garage.
Now, I am trying to find out more about them—and I need your help.
Once I got the toys back to New England, I did what any person would do: I looked them up on the web. I’m not interested in selling them. (I would never do that!) I just want to know more about them. It’s quite the cool find and I remember them well.
After several Google searches, I couldn’t find anything about them or the company that made them, Juri. As mentioned, each box is about the size of a matchbox, with German and English on them. Each one says the name Juri and that they’re made in Western Germany.
Sadly, my aunt is also now deceased, so I asked two of her daughters if maybe they remembered them. Both initially thought they were from Sweden, until they saw the boxes, which clearly state, “Made in Western Germany.” Next, they told me that the toys were probably sent to me in the late 70s or early 80s. Late 70s probably makes the most sense, because I definitely remember playing with these things. In fact, there was actual proof inside the box.
Besides the toys, there are several slips of paper with evidence that these things were played with and well loved. One note asks, “I’d really appreciate, if you wouldn’t touch my zoo, the things are really easy to knock over. Thanx.” Those “things” were the animals. The other slips of paper show some of the names I came up with. (The “Rinos” are Archie, Veronica, and Betty, while the giraffes are Archie, Edith, and Gloria.)
Next, I turned to a good friend of mine. Her mom is originally from Witten, Germany—and is the only person I know who actually originates from Germany. She said that the toys looked vaguely familiar, but that was it.
My Google search did yield two eBay auctions and an old Etsy sale, so someone else has seen these things at some point. I am looking for anything and everything about these toys, the company, or why they are no longer in existence. Do they look familiar to you? Please sound off in the comments section below!
My kids and I had plenty of time this past winter to play indoors and try new games, like Wordsearch! by Goliath Games. This is a fun game in which, as the name suggests, players search for words.
The age range is appropriate at 7 and over, and seems well-played with three or four people. Two players worked, but it wasn’t as fun. The game includes 20 cards (10 double-sided) and small, colorful game pieces that are definitely not appropriate for small children. The pieces also pose a threat to your vacuum cleaner if your kids aren’t good at putting things away. Geek that I am, I enjoy the packaging and the efficient container design.
The object of the game is to find the most words. The hidden words on the themed cards (i.e. school, home, cities, etc.) are in all directions: horizontal, vertical, diagonal, from left to right, and right to left.
Players take turns revealing the next word by spinning the disc. An opening in the ring reveals the word. The first player to find the word reaches for the totem—a squeeze toy that looks like the exclamation point in the name of the game. I think you could play the game without it, but it adds a level of competition. I was constantly wondering if the kids would accidentally knock over the board trying to get their hands on the totem. But, if you happen to grab the totem and don’t find the word right away, you lose your turn until the next word.
When you find the word, you use the colored pieces that look like contact lenses to mark it. The game gets competitive when markers are removed by other players finding words that intersect words-in-play. The only way to avoid this is if the markers are the same color as the previously found word.
We found that the downside to the board is that it can’t be read right-side up by everyone. The person reading upside down is at a disadvantage, especially if he or she is younger. Some fighting and nudging occurred.
After some rounds of play, you begin to remember where words are hidden. So, what do you do when you run out of cards? Perhaps an expansion set? Another alternative to the game rules: A single player could play a timed game.
As I mentioned in this preview post, I got a chance a few weeks ago to represent GeekMom at a two-day blogger event promoting some of Disney’s upcoming home-video releases. This included the next installment in DisneyToon Studio’s Tinker Bell series, The Pirate Fairy. The movie comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on April 1, and Disney’s consumer products team is prepared with a dedicated lineup of toys, clothes, and accessories featuring everyone’s favorite tinker and her fairy friends.
As part of the event, we got to see the new products up close just before sitting down to lunch in the zen garden outside the headquarters of DisneyToon Studios. The display included a wide variety of merchandise for fans of every age, from dolls to pajamas to sporty tote bags. As you might expect, much of it ties into The Pirate Fairy, but there were also some items highlighting classic Tink character designs and sketches.
If your kids enjoy pirates, fairies, or both (as is the case in my house), they’ll probably dig the newest addition to the Disney Fairies family, a free-spirited dust keeper named Zarina (voiced by Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks). Curious and scientifically minded, she’s also the captain of her own pirate ship and motley crew. Kids can role play as Zarina in this costume set, matching her look in the film pretty closely. It’s available exclusively at The Disney Store and DisneyStore.com.
Also available at mass retailers, licensee Jakks Pacific created a “Pixie Pirate” dress for Zarina and a companion “Pixie Party” dress for Tinker Bell. Zarina’s doesn’t look anything like her outfit in the movie, but there are sparkles aplenty.
We were lucky enough to get to take home some of the items in a goody bag, including these two dolls:
Since we already have the Tinker Bell and Periwinkle dolls at home, my girls loved adding Zarina into their play. The baby crocodile plays a significant role in the movie, and many of us fell in love with him after seeing him in action. After we left the screening room, I heard some fellow bloggers talking about how they hoped Disney would be making these little guys, and sure enough they were out there on display with all of the other stuff.
Dolls are always a big seller, so expect to see a range of different sets and variations coming out. I have to admit that I’m not completely sold on these 9-inch pirate fashion dolls, though. For one thing, they didn’t make all the fairies available. You can only get Tinker Bell, Rosetta, Zarina, and, for some reason, Periwinkle (who is only in the movie briefly and doesn’t actually meet any pirates). The dolls don’t look much like their film counterparts, either, and the fashions aren’t based on anything from the film. I do kind of like the purple jacket and boots Tink is rocking, though.
At one point in the film, Zarina blasts the fairies with a special dust that switches their talents around (Tink becomes a water fairy, Vidia becomes a tinker, Rosetta becomes an animal fairy, etc.). Their outfits get switched too, so naturally that calls for a brand-new, six-piece doll set with all of the outfit variations. Fans of the series can probably guess what their new talents are, based on the altered colors and designs. Seems like poor Fawn got left out, though.
Speaking of fashion, the below pieces were created to appeal to tweens, teens, and adults alike. I love the pretty organic cotton pajama set from Hanna Andersson. The tank and leggings will be available beginning in March at JC Penny and Wet Seal will be selling the sweatshirt.
If you’re not into wearing Tink on your sleeve, there are also these bags from Le Sportsac featuring the original designs and sketches created for Peter Pan by legendary Disney artist Marc Davis.
Stay tuned to GeekMom for more on The Pirate Fairy, including an interview with the filmmakers and animators, and other fun stuff from the event!
Jerry the Bear is an incredible interactive game designed to educate young children with type 1 diabetes. And co-founder and CCO Hannah Chung insists that Jerry is, indeed, an interactive game.
“We call Jerry a game instead of a toy because there is more of a gaming component to it.”
Jerry the Bear is a stuffed bear with a touch screen in his belly. He is designed to walk kids through the experience of type 1 diabetes, talking to them about his own insulin levels, his symptoms, and his diabetes maintenance.
He began as a Design for America project at Northwestern University. Hannah and co-founder Aaron Horowitz attended Northwestern together, and Hannah is also a co-founder of Design for America. “It was the first project that came out of Design for America,” Hannah says. “The idea of Jerry the Bear came about spring of 2009, but we really started working on the first prototype in fall 2011. During school we made 3 prototypes, and since then we fell in love with him and wanted to kind of work on it full time.”
Hannah and Aaron left Chicago during their senior year to set up their company, Sproutel, in Providence, RI, after meeting several mentors there who could help get Jerry off the ground. They finished their last quarter at Northwestern via Skype so they could concentrate on their new company full time.
“Starting January 2012 till now we’ve made about 28 different prototypes so far. We’ve tested with about 350 kids, and you know when you test with kids they come up with more ideas, and we just did more and more and more. Our philosophy behind prototyping is ‘build often, test often.’”
“I read almost every book out there on diabetes and family care,” says Hannah. “But you know, it’s really hard to understand. Diabetes is not simple, even for parents dealing with diabetes it’s a lot of information to handle.”
The idea behind Jerry is to empathize with kids who have type 1 diabetes and help them adapt to and understand more about the illness. “Kids with diabetes are usually diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 7, which is the age that we’re targeting, but until they’re teenagers they can’t touch any of the medical equipment. Kids don’t get to touch what is going through their body or understand the process behind it. They get really confused and upset that they have to go through something that’s boring and painful all the time.”
Kids taking care of Jerry get to explore his treatment, helping them to conceptualize their own treatment. “There’s a module where you have to take care of Jerry—test his blood sugar level, give him insulin, and you can see how things like exercise translates to his blood sugar level.”
“The biggest goal of Jerry is to help kids easily communicate their symptoms,” Hannah says. “When Jerry’s feeling high or low he will speak his symptoms. ‘I feel tired.’ As you take care of Jerry he’ll say, ‘Thank you, you’re doing great!’ Lots of positive reinforcement. When Jerry needs insulin you have to hold him and give him his insulin pen. When you practice giving Jerry a shot with his insulin pen, you think, ‘Jerry’s doing this because he needs insulin, that’s why I need to have a shot, too.’”
“He is speaking all of the possible symptoms kids can experience so that kids will learn what language to use when they need help from their parents. They can use the same language as Jerry, like I’m dizzy, or my hands feel clammy. It’s helping them go through and build good behaviors early on.”
This is wonderful for very young, newly diagnosed children with type 1 diabetes. But Sproutel quickly learned that they needed to do more for the older kids. “I think it was up until prototype six or seven, Jerry was only about taking care of Jerry.” Prototypes were sent out to families along with cameras and journals to document how children played and interacted with him. “Newly diagnosed kids, kids who had diabetes less than 6 months, they loved Jerry. They would play with Jerry, like, three hours every single day. But for kids who had diabetes for longer than a year, it was too easy for them.”
That was when the team really set out to add a gaming element to challenge older kids. “The main objective of the game behind Jerry is to help Jerry win the All Star game. So Jerry has to go through different levels, learn different sports, and each level has three storybooks and a game. In order to unlock those levels you need to take care of Jerry really well. So we’re not screaming diabetes education just by playing with the bear, the kids are trying to help Jerry win the All Star game, and in that process you have to take care of Jerry.”
It was a challenge to cater a toy to their targeted age group. “Even though our target audience has only a four-year gap, it’s a really big knowledge gap for kids from three to seven. So we had to read a lot about early childhood development, a lot of education models. I did a lot of research on the education side, but also on the diabetes side. What do educators, parents, or doctors recommend that the parents teach if their kids are in this level?”
So, why focus on diabetes? “My whole father’s family has type 2 diabetes, so growing up it was close to me but I didn’t know the complications behind it. So when I was in sixth grade my grandfather passed away from hypoglycemia, and that was the first time I realized how serious diabetes is. And then my dad was shortly after diagnosed,” Hannah explains. “I was always interested in designing for health, but diabetes is more close to me because of my family. Jerry the Bear was the perfect opportunity for me to work on that.”
Co-founder Aaron had human growth hormone deficiency and needed daily injections during his high school years. “Even though he would say that he can’t compare himself to someone with type 1 diabetes, he did understand how stressful that was and how scared he was to get all of those needles all the time. So that’s where our passions came about, and we loved Jerry the Bear and wanted to continue.”
“What we realized as we brought in more team members to our group, people who are passionate about the issue bring a different energy.” Andrew Berkowitz, their VP of Engineering, was diagnosed with type 1 when he was 7 years old. “He was like, ‘I always wanted something like this, how can I make this even better for kids like that?’ We’ve worked with a lot of people who have a personal passion behind it.”
And how did Hannah Chung become interested in STEM herself? “Growing up I always loved math and science.” She read biographies of famous female chemists and scientists. “But I was also passionate about art. I thought design was all packaging, just outer stuff and no meat. So I tried my best to stay away from design in high school.
“But when I came to college I realized design is more than packaging. It’s a whole process which involves science, engineering, business, even art. It helped me focus and realize that I wanted to do mechanical engineering but also focus on emotional design. The psychology side of things.”
“I think the word engineering makes kids think of, like, cars and planes or trucks. But when you think about engineering it could be something like building toys or building a house. There are so many other ways to apply engineering, but I think the traditional concept of engineering is limited.” She feels a responsibility within her own generation to help show younger kids, especially girls, how big the world of STEM really is.
After tackling diabetes, Sproutel has plans to focus on other illnesses like asthma. The company has big plans for 2014. “Our first batch was 250 bears, and we sold out,” Hannah says. Their goal for 2014 is to sell 1500 bears. “I think 2014 will be very exciting! We have 4 camps who are using Jerry the bear in their curriculum.”
Jerry is currently only available in the United States, but Hannah hopes that will change. “We’ve been getting a lot of interest from the UK, Canada, and Central and South America from Mexico to Brazil. To go international you need to do more product testing, but we are pushing our best to make Jerry the bear sales internationally.”
At Thanksgiving, Jerry was backordered until at least April. But production has ramped up, and he is currently available for $249 on www.jerrythebear.com.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hold a very special place in my heart. I received my first Raphael action figure in kindergarten after trading a more “girly” toy to another child during a Christmas gift exchange. My younger brother had all of the Turtles toys and we enjoyed watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. Even my name Dakster has origins in the TMNT universe, taken from my initials Dak and mixed with Baxter Stockman’s name (and we get Dakster).
In conjunction with a partnership with Toys “R” Us, Nickelodeon has brought back the classic Turtles in the “Retro Collection” of Turtles toys. I checked out the complete set of four Turtles, Shredder, Master Splinter, the Party Wagon, and Leonardo’s Mech Wrekker (the only toy not from the ’80s line).
As my brother and I pulled each toy out of the box, it was like we were little kids again. I started remembering all of the times I watched the animated series with my brothers and going to see the live-action movies in the theater (the first movie is my favorite). I also started to recall my biggest Turtles regret of passing up a chance to see TMNT Live in Concert because I was scared of performers in costume. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, head over to YouTube. You have no idea what you are missing.
We took our time with each toy. We pulled out and savored the memories of playing with the originals as kids.
The Party Wagon was the first thing we pulled out and it was just like we remembered it, from the accessories to the wheels. It feels like only yesterday that my little brother was playing with his Party Wagon in his room, having his Turtles action figures fight off the Foot Clan.
For me, the biggest prize in this giant cereal box was Raphael. He was just like I remembered him, weapons and all.
Growing up, Raphael was my favorite for his rebellious attitude and his sai weapons. I’d have to say I preferred him over the more “girly” toys, because I liked to pretend I was his sister and we would take on the Foot Clan together. Admittedly, I enjoyed having something that was considered a “boy toy,” but that was all mine and not my brothers’. Even in kindergarten, I was confused at the concept of boys and girls toys (that confusion has yet to go away).
I don’t recall ever playing with my brothers when it came to Turtles, but I remember the love we had for the Turtles was something we had in common. It was probably one of the few things we could relate to each other growing up, and I think my parents are grateful for that.
When it came time to check out Shredder, I started thinking about the latest incarnation of the character. It’s nice to know that my son will get to know a more menacing villain than the goofball I knew as a kid. I mean, let’s face it: Shredder in the ’80s was nothing more than a guy in a not-so-intimidating costume that mostly took orders from the Krang. Unlike the Shredder I grew up with, the Shredder of my son’s generation actually has something hanging between his legs.
Jumping off of memory lane for a moment, check out my video below showing you the quality of the toys, as well as some tips on how to make them safer for smaller Turtles fans.
While I still like the newer Turtles and all they have to offer my son, the ’80s line will always be my favorite (and “Cowabunga” will always reign supreme over “Booyakasha” in my house). If you are a Turtles fan, be it parent or toy collector, and want to take a walk back to your childhood, stop by Toys “R” Us and check out the Retro Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy line. As an ’80s kid, I can promise that you won’t be disappointed.
A word of advice to parents wanting to buy these for their kids: Be prepared to explain why all of the Turtles look so different than what kids see in the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. My advice would be to show them some of the earlier cartoons or the comic books before purchasing these for them. They’re great toys, but the different look might throw some kids off.
The Retro Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line ranges from $12.99 to $69.99 and is available exclusively at Toys “R” Us stores.
What happens when Pirate and Christmas Playmobil Advent Calendar lands collide? Well, in the case of the Advent Calendars I found for my kids (Playmobil Forest Winter Wonderland and Pirates Treasure Cove), my husband decided to make a photo story out of the treasures that were opened each day. Come join us as the Christmas and Pirate Playmobil Advent Calendars are opened and hi-jinks follow…
Playmobil is a big hit in our house. Finding these Playmobil Advent Calendars on clearance over the last year made for a really exciting December for the kids. They were able to expand their Playmobil universe, and dad was able to share his quirky sense of humor with our kids and with friends on Facebook. Since he only shared a few days on Facebook, he has gone back through and taken a picture for each day so that I could share the complete collection with you.
The robot revolution is upon us. Whether you want an R2-D2, Dalek,or a Bender is up to your own discretion. However, Romo is an easy, family-friendly way to introduce some of the wee ones to the wonderful world of robots.
Romo is a smartphone-controlled personal robot, which can be found at Brookstone and Amazon. He can’t clean the floors or make fries. Romo is more like a family pet, with none of the mess. He’s also a nifty learning experience, both for the robot and its user.
On the surface, Romo seems a lot like your basic smartphone-based toy. However, as you play with Romo, he’s actually learning. In other words, while it may seem like you’re just playing a few simple games, you’re actually programming. This is called the “training” phase. Romo also has telepresense features. This means you can talk to family members through Romo, whether you’re on the other side of the house or the other side of the world.
The actual Romo product is just the robot’s base. No batteries are necessary, as it charges up via an included USB cable. However, to make magic with Romo, you’ll have to supply an iPhone or iPod touch. Currently, there are two versions of the Romo: one is compatible with the fourth-gen iPod touch, the iPhone 4 and 4s, while the other works with the fifth-gen iPod touch and the iPhone 5/5C/5S. For testing purposes, I used my trusty iPhone 4.
If you don’t want Romo to suck up all of your iPhone’s battery life, you’ll want to charge it via the aforementioned USB cable. As the base charges, a light will flash on the front. It can take about six hours to get Romo fully charged. Once it’s ready to roam, that light will turn solid and you can expect about 2.5 hours of playtime. While you’re waiting for the device to power up, download and install the free Romo app via the iTunes App Store.
Once everything is ready, secure your iPhone into Romo’s docking station and launch the app. After a little introductory “movie,” you’ll be asked to help Romo train for “his time here on Earth.” This is where the playing/programming comes in, as well as where Romo will start to adapt to all of your surroundings.
Parent company Romotive has said that one of the goals with Romo is to help get kids excited about computer science and software development. Well, mission accomplished. As Romo learned and unlocked features, my 7-year-old son fell in love even more with the little guy he named “Rover.”
At present, Romo has about 12 different “missions,” which can unlock new abilities. These missions vary from getting Romo to react to being picked up to getting the robot to chase a ball. There are options for sound, motion, and even “expressions.” Although the number of missions seems low, each one can take time—which my son certainly didn’t seem to mind one bit!
Of course, Romo isn’t all fun, games, and wacky faces. He can also be used as a security device, which is pretty darn cool. If you’re willing to leave your iDevice docked in Romo while away, you can view your home using the iPhone’s camera. Of course, this does require another iOS device or a computer for the viewing. However, you can also use that second device to control Romo remotely. So not only can you see whether or not the dog is sitting on the couch, you can actually follow Fido around the house to make sure he isn’t eating any shoes or Lego bricks.
As mentioned, you’re going to need two devices to use those features, which may not be doable for a lot of families. And if you think you finally have a use for that old iPhone, think again. See, Romo is sort of fussy about who he plays with. That’s a nice way of me saying that he’s not going to work with your next smartphone, unless you like getting the same old operating system. There’s an iPhone 4/4s Romo and one for the iPhone 5 and the two don’t play nicely with each other. If you want to keep Romo in your rotation, you can expect to spend $149.99 for the upgrade.
It’s also important to note that the telepresence doesn’t work with the iPhone 4. This kept me from checking out those features during my review. It’s something I didn’t notice in the fine print before I agreed to take Romo into my home, so it may be something you’ll miss.
That slight difference could definitely sway your decision. See, Romo is sort of expensive. For $150, I want something to clean my floors. Well, at the very least, I want it to work with my next iPhone. However, Romotive is working on fixes, upgrades, and additional features for the New Year.
When you factor in the security features, Romo is absolutely worth the money. A basic Dropcam video camera has the same MSRP and doesn’t move around the house or teach the kids about the basics of robots and programming. If you’re still clinging to the iPhone 4, the price tag may be a bit more difficult to accept. Still, there’s no arguing with the fact that Romo was insanely popular in this house. My son always lit up at the mere mention of hanging out with “Rover” for the day. His reactions were even better than the ones we programmed into our Romo.
ExtraGeektacular Activities are geeky field trips that encourage your child’s creativity and are a fun time for the whole family!
Pop-up shops are all the rage, retail stores are putting up mobile kiosks, and chefs are opening limited-time restaurants. Now, geek culture is getting in on the action. Pop-ups create quick interest, but their effects can give a brand longevity. Not that some brands need help remaining current, because this year, Power Rangers celebrates its 20th anniversary! To honor the occasion, Toy Art Gallery in Los Angeles held a two-day pop-up event, Saban’s Power Rangers Celebrates 20 Rangers for 20 Years, with proceeds benefiting the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles.
The event showcased artists from around the world, with each taking a base 31-inch giant Red Ranger figure and creating their own twist. My kids got a kick out of seeing how each artist applied different textures and colors to make the Ranger their own.
The kids’ favorite work was the “Steam Powered Ranger” by Josh Mayhem. Making a collage of materials and then painting it to create one complete figure is a great lesson for kids, something which can be done in similar art projects of their own. Looking closely, they noticed that the figure was made up with pieces of one of their favorite toys, Lego Hero Factory!
As a Star Wars fan, I was obviously drawn to Kano’s “Mighty Morphin Power Vader.” At first look, it seems as simple as a Darth Vader head on a Red Ranger, but at closer look, there’s a lot more detail: the Ranger torso, Vader’s force-choke hand, and custom shoes. The gold collar is actually the Ranger’s mask! Little subtleties like that are what gives each figure character.
Power Rangers‘ popularity has remained constant. There were a lot of families at the gallery, with parents reminiscing as they viewed the artwork along with their kids. The kids pointed excitedly at their favorite toys in the displays of Power Rangers toys throughout the years. It was fun to see how materials and design has changed over 20 years.
Even though the Power Rangers pop-up was only for a weekend, the Toy Art Gallery is always a great place to check out new artists and pick up items like Munnys or DIY Labbits, which give you the freedom to be creative. The event really got the kids motivated to think of different ways to create art that is uniquely their own. Of course, my choice of artistic expression is always through sweets. I’m imagining a 31-inch tall Red Ranger cookie right now…
Toy Art Gallery
7571 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(877) 910-TOYS (8697) www.toyartgallery.com
Wednesday through Saturday 12:00 to 8:00 p.m. (PT)
Sunday 12:00 to 6:00 p.m.
Toys that push, toys that inspire art, toys that look like famous geeky characters, and more! Toys aren’t just for kids, and this bunch promises fun for geek kids and geek parents alike.
ArtSee Studio Wowwee’s drawing kit for iPads has some fantastic features to really make your child’s screen time interactive. Stamps, customizable activities, and even animation and sound tools, make this a big-deal toy for 2013. The ArtSee app is free to download and can be used with or without the Studio kit. Recommended age is 3+, but younger children can still go to town drawing and coloring; the Studio tools will grow with them and provide years of activities. $39.99
Battroborg Tomy’s Battroborg is like a cool update of Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots. The robots are R/C motion-controlled, and you can buy new robots separately (but they are pricey). There’s a bit of a learning curve to get the robots moving the way you want, but with some practice it’s pretty satisfying. Recommended for kids ages 6+, or you can get a set for the grownup robot fan in your life. It’s a pretty great office toy. $79.99
Doc McStuffins Checkup Center Just Play’s Doc McStuffins playset has made pretty much every single top toy list for 2013, including the coveted Most Wanted List from TimetoPlayMag.com. We are just as wild about it here at GeekMom and so excited to see something other than a play kitchen out there. It’s ages 3+, but at least one GeekMom has it stashed away for her almost-two-year-old to enjoy this December. $79.99
Flying Heroes Bridge Direct’s Flying Hero is the kind of stocking-stuffer/small toy that could outshine all the expensive stuff this holiday season. The quick-pull launcher is so satisfying, and your favorite superheroes will soar nice and high. You can choose Superman, Spider-Man, or Batman, but we believe that when given a choice you should always be Batman. Ages 4+. $14.99
Hape Wonder Walker Sturdy wooden push cart helps babies walk and also fosters creative toddler play. Onboard activities include knobs and gears. Rubber trimmed wheels protect floors. Ages 12 months to 3 years. $75.97
HexBug Aquabot Bath time is about to get way more interesting, because Hexbugs have learned how to swim! $13
Max Steel Interactive Sword The Max Steel Interactive Sword is the kind of thing that will draw huge gasps when it comes out of the box, and knock down the Christmas tree a minute later! It talks, it makes noises similar to a lightsaber, and it goes perfectly in the dress up box for a superhero, ninja, pirate, or fairy princess. No sharp edges on this fake sword, and it holds up well to extensive play time. $22-30
Melissa and Doug Shopping CartDurable child-sized shopping cart looks just like those in real stores. Sturdy metal construction includes pivoting front wheels and a folding doll seat. Ages 36 months to 7 years. $49.95
Metal Earth Models You know how teens are hard to shop for? How they’re too old, really, for toys, but would still like to unwrap something fun? Meant for kids age 14 and up, Metal Earth models come in a flat package—perfect for slipping into a holiday card. Punch out the sturdy metal pieces to build model airplanes, a Ferris wheel, trains, ships, the Eiffel Tower, and more. These are the perfect gift to bridge that wide gap between child and adult. $5-10
Minecraft Fan Bundle from ThinkGeek For the ultimate MineCraft fan, pick up the Minecraft Fan Bundle from ThinkGeek. The bundle includes a foam sword and pickax, torch, and light-up redstone ore. $80
Monster Factory Mini Monsters Why get a teddy bear when you could have a monster? Canadian collectible toy company Monster Factory is moving their business into the States and into stores with a collection of twelve mini dolls. Showcased at this year’s New York Comic Con, each doll has a distinct and hilarious personality. The dolls are so well made and just adorable. $12.95
Nerf Rebelle Series The Nerf Rebelle series, designed for ages 8-years-old and up, is full of awesome for boys and girls, with two different styles to choose from including a cross bow style. If your child is not a pink kid, pick up some spray paint and give it a personalized paint job to make it their own. Word of advice, make sure your child wears long sleeves while playing to protect their arms from the string snapping back. $29.95
Nerf Zombie Strike Foam Dart Blaster SeriesThe Sledgefire and Hammershot are fun Nerf blasters that are painted in a zombie apocalypse motif and can take special fluorescent green darts. Of the 10+ Nerf blasters we own, the smaller Hammershot is the farthest-firing one I’ve ever seen. These Zombie Strike series blasters are a Target exclusive this holiday season and will hit the market nationwide in 2014. $14.99 & $27.99
Pygmy Puffs Plush Pygmy Puffs ala the Harry Potter series. I love that you can order directly from the theme park to get something not offered elsewhere. Comes in pink and purple and both my little Potter-heads should love these stocking stuffers. (Got myself one, too.) $14.95
Rollors Lawn Game Combining the outdoor fun of bocce, bowling, and horseshoes, Rollors is a unique game invented by a deployed Air Force officer who enjoyed classic lawn games and discovered a way to combine all his favorites. The game includes all the playing pieces you need, instructions, and a nylon carrying case. It makes a great gift for kids ages 4 and up. $39.99
Sky Viper QuadCoptor Any R/C fan in your family will love this substantial quadcoptor from Skyrocket Toys. It has different fittings for indoor and outdoor use, and you can amp up the level of difficulty with three different modes. The Sky Viper can do flips and barrels, and it’s refreshingly sturdy. And so much fun. Ages 12+. $79.99
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Action Figures If your kids love to play with action figures and love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the latest batch of figures will appeal to them. High quality construction and a lot of included accessories means that their play time will feel as realistic as possible. Great for any TMNT fan on your shopping list. $8-10
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ninja Control Shellraiser RC Vehicle Have some kick butt fun with the newest TMNT mobile arsenal, the RC Shellraiser Vehicle. Even though the remote control is a little awkward, the handling is great and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of its movements. Pets on the floor should beware of the remote firing sewer cover canon that shoots 10 disks continuously with the push of a button. An added bonus is the ability for the standard size TMNT action figures to ride along on the inside of the Shellraiser or they can hang off the sides! $59.99
Thomas the Train: All Around Sodor The All Around Sodor set is just fantastic. Now the youngest Thomas fans (18 months and up) can have their own train set with features like a talking Thomas and location buttons that will make him go straight to that spot on track. He even works off the track, because you know toddlers are all about doing things outside the lines. We have seen young children mesmerized by this set. $39.99
Thomas the Train Up and Down Coaster Ride On The Step2 Company has made a very cool addition to Thomas the Train merchandise. An actual indoor/outdoor train with more than nine feet up sloping track for kids to ride. We saw this at a holiday preview a while back, and kids could not get enough of it. Ages 2+, maximum weight 50 lbs. $169.99
Tom Kidd Dunne Estates Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle Beautifully detailed steampunk art on laser-cut 423 piece wooden puzzle, made in the USA. Get back to family time spend making puzzles together with this pass-down-to-next-generation item. Ages 7 and up. $100
Tool Belt with Accessories For Small Hands offers hard-to-find, child-size tools so they build confidence and independence. Yard, kitchen, sewing, kitchen, and other useful implements. This is a great resource. We particularly like their tool belt with hammer and safety glasses for kids 3 to 8. $30.95
Toolbox Jewelry One of the best Klutz kits we’ve seen, Toolbox Jewelry not only gives you everything you need to make some beautiful jewelry, but it teaches you skills that you can apply to any hardware you find around the house. Great for girls who have the Maker spirit. $21.99
Transformers Rescue Bots Though they are not a new product this year, Rescue Bots are a very popular toy in the Post house. These toys use one fluid motion to transform from robot to vehicle. This well designed sturdy toy series are a great addition to any house that longs for the toys from their youth for their kids, without the frustration of complicated instructions and pieces falling off. $9 and up
“Wow! That’s so cool!”
“Can we take this home?”
“So much better than last year!”
Words I heard most during my first visit to the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTAG) at Chicago’s Navy Pier on Saturday, November 23. ChiTAG is over two days—15 hours of magical play including demonstrations, board games, card games, outdoor and indoor toys, lovable plushies, puzzles, game tournaments, building events, and even characters walking around. Maybe you’re a veteran to toy and game fairs, but talk about overwhelming and sensory overload! Everywhere you turn there is something to see, touch, play, and learn.
While my high-school teacher husband attended the Games for Educators Conference, my children and I walked over 120 booths checking out familiar companies, new inventors, and fun products. With toys and games for every age, it was hard to figure out where to even start walking. There were some seriously excited and passionate first-timers sharing their dreams, and professionals from around the world.
Tenkai Knights by Ionix was a big hit with my son. Lego-compatible, they are the transformers of the building block world and geared towards ages 8+. We tried out board games, too.
One game, Karoman, incorporated assembling the character with which you play. After you build your collectible character from dense paper board, you use it in battle against other characters. Karoman is making its way from Indonesia to the United States.
The best part of the whole experience wasn’t so much being able to play with toys, but meeting Young Inventors with their games. There were over 100 participants in the Young Inventors Challenge this year… the twinkling eyes and jumpy, excited kids, so much fun!
I wasn’t able to attend the second day of ChiTAG. It would have been interesting to participate in the World’s Largest Playdate and the Worldwide Champion USA Pre-qualifier for Settlers of Catan. (No doubt I am way out of my league with those players.) I admit I’ve underestimated the importance of playing games—there’s discovery, strategy-building, and social benefits. It comes down to this: Toys and games are for every age. It’s magical.
I can’t wait to share my follow-up reviews and even introduce some newcomers to the field of toys and games. The Chicago Toy and Game Fair is a must-visit next fall.
Do you have a builder to shop for this holiday season? Whether your builder is 4 or 104, or if they are a collector of Lego brick memorabilia, there is something in our Building Blocks and Lego Bricks list for everyone. There are even some non-Lego brick recommendations for builders who want to change it up.
The Lego Adventure Book by Megan Rothrock features step-by-step instructions for building a variety of projects, including a fun Lego idea lab, medieval themed projects, and a dinosaur. If you know someone with a Lego collection, this book will send them on a creative adventure in mixing and matching pieces and parts to create something new. $17
The Lego Adventure Book, Volume Two offers up nearly 40 models complete with step-by-step instructions for creating spaceships, pirate hideaways, dragons, fast cars, and more. On top of that, there are even more inspirational example models and tips from some of the top Lego builders in the online community. Read GeekMom’s complete review for more information. $15
The Unofficial Technic Builder’s GuideSkilled Lego builders will be giddy at the possibilities in The Unofficial Technic Builder’s Guide by Pawel “Sariel” Kmiec. From simple mechanisms to outrageous suspension/gearbox/drive-train combos, this book is perfect for the Lego geek who wants to move beyond packaged kits of Lego bricks. $22
Lego Mini-fig Ice Cube Tray Have a Lego-crazy kid (or parent) in your family? Surprise them with this fun ice cube tray that makes mini-figs. Any drink will taste better with mini-figs floating around in it! $9.59
Lego Brick Ice Cube Tray So, you’ve purchased the mini fig ice cube tray, why not surprise them one more time with ice that looks like actual Lego bricks? Great for birthday parties or just family movie night. Every Lego loving family should have this ice cube tray in the freezer.$9.49
Lego Cell Phone Covers A great stocking-stuffer, this Lego cell phone cover is like a mini building plate. $20.44
Lego Chima This chapter of the Lego-game-verse gives you a lot for your money. Collect coins, characters, and more for hours—and I do mean hours—of play on your Nintendo DS/3DS/PlayStation Vista. The popular Chima Lego brick characters are represented by voice actors and subtitles making this game one anyone in the family can enjoy. $18
Darth Vader Lego Flashlight Do you need to shop for someone who is afraid of the dark…side of the force? Maybe this flashlight shaped like Darth Vader will help. $22.75
Lego Boom Box If you are shopping for a Lego brick enthusiast who would love to listen to tunes while building, consider this brick shaped boom box. $40.62
Lego Star Wars PensThese pens that can be “built” into characters like R2-D2 and Darth Vader. $8.95
Lego Minecraft: The Nether Recreate a Minecraft world as a micro-scale Lego model and explore the adventure of The Nether with three buildable Micromob figures: 2 Ghasts and a Zombie Pigman. $34.95
Periodic table of elements wooden blocks Start your wee geeks out right in the world with a set of wooden stacking blocks featuring the periodic table of elements. Uncle Goose also makes blocks featuring Chinese, Korean, and Japanese characters; Italian, German, and Russian blocks; and Braille and American Sign Language blocks. $31
Woodmobiel Standard Kit This high quality wooden toy system includes pre-drilled pine posts, pine wheels, plastic boards, steel cap nuts and bolts, fasteners, and wrenches to join pieces together. Kids can build 20 different life-sized toys including a wagon, crane, bicycle, and plane. Ages 5 and up. A gift that will last for generations. $299
Erector Super Construction SetThis special edition set is interchangeable with all Erector sets. It comes with a 6V battery-operated motor, 643 parts, instructions for 25 fully detailed models. For makers age eight and up. $59.99
Lego Architecture Studio New to the line of Lego Architecture kits, the Lego Architecture Studio departs from the very successful formula that Lego has established with its kits of significant buildings and structures from around the world. With this newest kit, people can design their own architecture structures, from the simple to the complex. All of the pieces are white or clear, and the kit comes with a book that will inspire design. It gives only a few building tips, but it’s like the unstructured Lego kits of yore, except with pieces specifically useful for architecture. Great for adults and kids alike. $149.99
Lego and Playmobil Advent Calendars Start or continue a holiday tradition this year! Advent calendars are a great way for religious or secular families to count down to a winter holiday. Lego and Playmobil always have fantastic offerings, with new calendars every year. Check out their selections this year. $20-30
Thinker Linkers Thinker Linkers from Murrah Woodcraft were on display at Maker Faire New York this year, and the addictive pull of these large-scale wooden building pieces was undeniable. Even the toddlers were jumping in to play and create with these full-size building sets. $23.50-$200
I’m old enough that I saw all three of the original Star Wars trilogy movies in the theater. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my sci-fi-loving mom made sure that we saw them all. And my sister and I each had one action figure. I had a little R2-D2, and she had a C-3PO. R2’s head clicked as you turned it around. That was about all he did, but I loved him.
Much more recently, I’ve been really pleased to see so many action figures for the new Star Wars movies (even though I’m not a big fan of them), and for other movies and franchises out there. But since my only childhood action figure was R2-D2, I have a soft spot in my heart for figures from that series.
The characters are very detailed and well done, large enough to play with on a decent scale. Each character comes with accessories, such as lightsabers and/or blasters, and in the case of R2, all of his tools that come out of his panels.
Each figure comes attractively packaged in a black box with a description of the character and a well known quotation on the back. I got my hands on two of the larger series figures, X-Wing Fighter Luke (at least that’s what I call him) and R2-D2. Luke’s quotation is, “It’ll be just like Beggar’s Canyon back home.” A classic for sure. R2’s quote is, naturally, “Beep BEYoop whyEET bip beep boop!”
Fully articulated, the X-Wing Fighter Luke comes with a helmet, a blaster, and a lightsaber. He even has a trigger finger positioned perfectly for the blaster. It is obvious that Hasbro paid a lot of attention to detail with this series. The plastic is ever-so-slightly flexible, to allow for easy off and on of the helmet, and to make sure the lightsaber doesn’t break.
R2-D2 has a third leg that can be used or stowed, and wheels on the bottom of all three of his feet. He has panels that open or come off, and accessories such as Luke’s lightsaber (from Return of the Jedi, obviously), tools, and scanners. He is also as articulated as can be possible for this kind of droid.
While the whole set might cost more than people can afford, picking one (or two, or three) of your favorite characters are an affordable choice. These are high quality, detailed, and great for play or display. I recommend them to any Star Wars lover.
With two boys under the age of five in my house, I spend much time playing with small wooden trains, small plastic blocks, small metal cars — you get the idea. If there’s one thing guaranteed to make you feel like a giant, it’s playing extensively on the Island of Sodor, or its neighboring racetrack for a few hours every night. Always a sucker for a good info-graphic, I was completely taken with this one put out by Mattel showing the world in 1:64 scale, the scale of their Hot Wheels line. Now that’s a Great White Shark I could get my family to swim with!
Not a day goes by that my daughter doesn’t ask me to play Barbies. I have fond memories of playing Barbie as a girl, too, so there’s always something fun about reliving my childhood with her. But once the hair is brushed and the clothes are selected, our playtime typically devolves into an acting performance by yours truly with the most demanding director in the world.
“Mommy. Make them say something. Make her say, ‘Hi, Teresa.’ No, not like that. Okay. Now change her dress.”
To get my daughter more involved—and to keep me from pulling my hair out (and Barbie’s along with it)—I needed to add something more to our doll playtime to capture both our interests. If you’re stuck in the same Barbie boat, here are four ways to play dolls that don’t involve shopping, weddings, or trips to the hair salon.
Haunt the Dreamhouse.
Barbie has to live somewhere, usually in her perfectly decorated pink Dreamhouse or some variation thereof. I was growing tired of the perfect and the pink, so in a sudden flash of inspiration, I suggested turning Barbie’s home into a haunted mansion. My daughter was in before I finished the sentence.
Using basically the same decorating method that we use on our own home for Halloween, we decked out the dollhouse in Kleenex ghosts, cobwebs, and spiders. Just decorating the haunted house took up one rainy afternoon, and the fun continues as we devise different ways to scare the intrepid Barbies making their way through. Playing “hair salon” turns into creative costume making as my preschooler thinks of new ways to use Barbie’s clothes.
It might not be Life in the Dreamhouse, but our spooky house is amusing, if I do say so myself. (Yes, I’ve watched Life in the Dreamhouse. Have I mentioned this kid loves Barbie?)
Invite Barbie to get involved with science experiments.
Barbie has never been one to tie herself down to a single career. She’s been a doctor, veterinarian, politician, and even an astronaut on a mission to Mars. In that same spirit, I’ve incorporated Barbie into many of the science experiments that we do together at home.
With the help of books like Science in Seconds for Kids and articles here on GeekMom like Kristen’s fizzy science fun with baking soda, I’ve found several science-themed activities that are well-suited to both my daughter’s attention span and getting some assistance from Barbie. Typically the doll can act as an observer and “ask” questions about the experiment, but she has gotten hands-on, too. Barbie is particularly good at dumping vinegar into a baking soda volcano.
You guessed it, Barbie Live Action Role Playing.
Inspired by our recent trip to the Great Wolf Lodge to play ShadowQuest, my daughter and I crafted magic wands out of toothpicks for the Barbie Magi. My four-year-old turns herself into a tiny dungeon master, devising a quest and a list of items in our house that the dolls must hunt for. Part pretend play and part scavenger hunt, BLARPing gets my daughter’s wheels turning and adds a new dimension to playing dolls together.
As an added bonus, if I’m feeling a little down and in need of a smile, I just say “BLARPing” out loud. But not in public.
Star in a movie.
Sure, getting Barbie and Ken to go on a date to the movies is a pretty typical way to play. But how about being the movie? Once my daughter and I get the dolls settled in their chairs, we turn on music from our favorite film scores and act out the movies for our captive audience.
You might end up re-enacting scenes from Disney movies or dancing around to the music from the Fresh Beat Band, but you can also take the opportunity to show off the library of fantastic movie and game soundtracks you’ve amassed. As you can imagine, this leads to a countless number of lightsaber duels. My daughter has even watched me pretend to slay dragons from Skyrim (complete with a “FUS ROH DAH!”) as I blasted the main “Dragonborn” theme from my iPhone.
Do you have more suggestions to liven up playtime and beat the doll doldrums? Let us know in the comments below!