What Else Have You Got Besides Pinocchio, Gepetto?

School’s out for most kids, which means they’re probably going to be spending a bit more time with you than they do during the year. We’re always on the lookout for activities that invite creativity, stimulate the imagination, and are fun enough that everyone in the family (including mom and dad) will want to come back and play again. One category of such crowd-pleasers is puppets. And this week we review some of our favorites.

Folkmanis
folkmanis little puppets parents@playFolkmanis makes some of the nicest puppets around. They’re the most lifelike, best quality, and come in a dizzying array of designs. Folkmanis range from the large, very articulated (meaning that they have lots of joints, not that they speak well) puppets that have mouths, wings, arms, legs, and so on, all the way to tiny puppets that fit over a single fingertip. And, as you might expect, they also come in a wide range of prices.

folkmanis monkey in a barrel parents@playStarting at $8.50, you can bring home just about every species imaginable, and even some that aren’t imaginable at all (like monsters) and put on an amazing show. This year Folkmianis introduced nine new “Little Puppets,” or traditional hand puppets, including frogs, dragons, and unicorns. They’re small in size but huge in play value, and they all have working mouths and hands. The larger puppets are, of course, more expensive. Some of this year’s new entries are the Monkey in a Barrel ($22.00), Alpaca ($29.95), and the Sky Dragon ($44.95), whose moveable wings, arms, and mouth offer whoever is operating the puppet a great exercise in manual dexterity. There’s something for all ages. http://www.folkmanis.com

Melissa and Doug
melissa and doug puppet theater parents@playMelissa and Doug make a classic puppet theater ($78.00) that is one of the cutest we’ve seen. Kids will love putting on shows behind the red curtains, and they can even write the name of their show and list guest stars on the included chalkboard. There’s also a clock with moveable hands that shows the time of the next performance. My 5-year old son was feeling quite proud of his puppetry skills and performance abilities. We haven’t allowed him to take the theater out of the living room to his play room because he’s playing to a sold-out crowd of friends and neighbors almost every night.
Melissa and Doug also makes a line of puppets, from princes and princesses, to pirates and more. The adorable dragon puppet has a silly forked tongue, big googly eyes, and a friendly, expressive face. He also comes with a removable stick in one arm that your budding puppet master can use to manipulate him (these range from $20.00 to $50.00) All ages, http://www.melissaanddoug.com

Educational Insights
educational insights puppet on a stick parents@playFor a different, less-traditional take on puppets, check out Educational Insights’ Puppets on a Stick. The original group of three ($25.00 for the set) are oversized, and are meant to inspire dramatic play with silly faces, movable mouths, and those googly eyes everyone loves. They move their mouths by using a small, easy-to-operate child sized lever near the bottom of the stick. This year’s additions are The Sea Squad, which feature four different, brightly colored sea creatures, all sporting happy, goofy faces. Both the old and the new sets are cute, funny, interesting, and sure to bring a smile to any child or adult’s face. But keep an eye on them. They’re so adorable that in our house, they have a tendency to be “borrowed” by my son’s playmates (and their parents). Ages 4 and up. http://www.educationalinsights.com

Toy Trends to Watch in 2013

Going to Toy Fair is always a bit overwhelming. To start with, hundreds of manufacturers from all over the world are showcasing thousands of products.  Some are amazing, innovative, and creative. Some are copycats or retreads, and some are just plain awful. But what’s especially fun is trying to predict which of the trends we’re seeing will actually become hits—and which will bomb. Here are a few categories we think are worth watching.  Some of these are already hot—and we believe will get even hotter. Some are just appearing but will be all the rage in 2013. Over the next few months your parents@play team will bring you reviews of these and many, many other categories.  

nerf bowArchery. With the amazing success of the movies Hunger Games, Brave, and the Avengers—all of which featured archers—it was only a matter of time until bows and arrows took their place alongside swords as the low-tech weapons of choice for today’s young adventurers. Everyone from well-known brands like Nerf (hasbro.com) and Zing (zingtoystore.com) to tiny brands you’ve never heard of (but will soon), have introduced bows or crossbows that fire a variety of (safe) projectiles.

mystixx beforemyxixx afterZombies and Vampires. The Twilight series, Dark Shadows, and animated fare like Frankenweenie and ParaNorman have taken vampires and zombies out of the crypt and enrolled them in high school. The Monster High girls have been out for a while. But some of the most fun—and most creative—are the face-changing Mystixx Vampires (mystixx.com). At first  glance you’ve got a cute-as-a-button doll. Turn the head around, rearrange the hair, and you’ve got one stylin’ vampire.

stacetat mustacheMoustaches. Maybe it started with the Got Milk? mustache campaign. Or maybe it was the Movember campaign when men around the world grow their facial hair during the month of November to raise awareness of prostate cancer and other men’s health concerns. But however it happened, mustaches are hot. And not just for men and boys—plenty of girls are getting in on the act as well. We especially liked the Ha! Ha! Moustache game from Haywire Group (haywiregroup.com) where player try to identify famous (or infamous) people based on a cardboard mustache and a handful of clues. And Stachetats (stachetats.com) has a line of wild and colorful temporary upper lip decorations for every taste.

melissa and doug duct tapeDuct tape. Once upon a time duct tape was grey, sticky, boring, and available only in hardware stores. Today, there are entire aisles in arts and crafts stores devoted to far less sticky, and definitely not boring duct tapes in dozens of colors and patterns. Specialty companies like Creativity for Kids (creativityforkids.com) and Klutz (klutz.com) have wonderfully colorful kits that are built around duct tape. And so do some of the giants, like Melissa and Doug.

mattel angry birdsFrom app to reality. Another interesting trend is to take popular apps like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds and turn them into real-life games. Sometimes there’s a branding double whammy, such as when Star Wars character start flying through the air knocking down structures.

 

Pink and glitter. Just about anything you can imagine–building systems like Lego and Megabloks, science kits, tattoos, cameras, mustaches, sports equipment, action figures, and even guns and other weapons—are now available in pink and glitter.

Toy Trends to Watch in 2013

Going to Toy Fair is always a bit overwhelming. To start with, hundreds of manufacturers from all over the world are showcasing thousands of products.  Some are amazing, innovative, and creative. Some are copycats or retreads, and some are just plain awful. But what’s especially fun is trying to predict which of the trends we’re seeing will actually become hits—and which will bomb. Here are a few categories we think are worth watching.  Some of these are already hot—and we believe will get even hotter. Some are just appearing but will be all the rage in 2013. Over the next few months your parents@play team will bring you reviews of these and many, many other categories.

Archery
nerf bowWith the amazing success of the movies Hunger Games, Brave, and the Avengers—all of which featured archers—it was only a matter of time until bows and arrows took their place alongside swords as the low-tech weapons of choice for today’s young adventurers. Everyone from well-known brands like Nerf (hasbro.com) and Zing (zingtoystore.com) to tiny brands you’ve never heard of (but will soon), have introduced bows or crossbows that fire a variety of (safe) projectiles.

Zombies and Vampires
mystixx beforemyxixx afterThe Twilight series, Dark Shadows, and animated fare like Frankenweenie and ParaNorman have taken vampires and zombies out of the crypt and enrolled them in high school. The Monster High girls have been out for a while. But some of the most fun—and most creative—are the face-changing Mystixx Vampires (mystixx.com). At first  glance you’ve got a cute-as-a-button doll. Turn the head around, rearrange the hair, and you’ve got one stylin’ vampire.

Moustaches
stacetat mustacheMaybe it started with the Got Milk? mustache campaign. Or maybe it was the Movember campaign when men around the world grow their facial hair during the month of November to raise awareness of prostate cancer and other men’s health concerns. But however it happened, mustaches are hot. And not just for men and boys—plenty of girls are getting in on the act as well. We especially liked the Ha! Ha! Moustache game from Haywire Group (haywiregroup.com) where player try to identify famous (or infamous) people based on a cardboard mustache and a handful of clues. And Stachetats (stachetats.com) has a line of wild and colorful temporary upper lip decorations for every taste.

Duct tape
melissa and doug duct tapeOnce upon a time duct tape was grey, sticky, boring, and available only in hardware stores. Today, there are entire aisles in arts and crafts stores devoted to far less sticky, and definitely not boring duct tapes in dozens of colors and patterns. Specialty companies like Creativity for Kids (creativityforkids.com) and Klutz (klutz.com) have wonderfully colorful kits that are built around duct tape. And so do some of the giants, like Melissa and Doug.

From app to reality
mattel angry birdsAnother interesting trend is to take popular apps like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds and turn them into real-life games. Sometimes there’s a branding double whammy, such as when Star Wars character start flying through the air knocking down structures.

Pink and glitter
Just about anything you can imagine–building systems like Lego and Megabloks, science kits, tattoos, cameras, mustaches, sports equipment, action figures, and even guns and other weapons—are now available in pink and glitter.

The Art of Childhood

If you’re like most parents, your refrigerator and walls are covered with your children’s art. But their creative play does a lot more than just make you proud. Kids who are involved in the arts are often more self-confident and self-reliant. Art helps kids improve fine-motor skills, follow directions better, and get along with peers. Various studies have shown that kids who are involved with the arts are more likely to excel academically, participate in math and science fairs, and win awards for writing. Here are some great sets that will help your child find his or her inner Picasso. So roll up your sleeves and get ready to have some fun.

crayola ultimate art caseCrayola’s Ultimate Art Case (www.crayolastore.com) is perfect for the young artist on the go. It comes pre-loaded with all the basic supplies to keep your little Rembrandt busy for hours—pencils, markers, watercolors, brushes, stencils, and more. With lots of internal compartments, organization is easy. And there’s plenty of extra space to store paper, glue, scissors, or anything else that might spark creativity. $15.99. Ages 4 and up.  

stand up easel from melissa and dougMelissa and Doug easels (www.melissaanddoug.com) come in two sizes. If you have a larger room or space, the Deluxe Standing Wooden Art Easel($79.99) is ideal. It includes a dry-erase board, chalkboard, locking paper-roll holder, child-safe paper cutter, easy-to-use clips to keep the paper steady, and a good-sized plastic tray for holding supplies. The easel is adjustable, so it can keep growing right along with your child.

table top easel from melissa and dougIf you have less space or want something a bit more portable, try the Tabletop Art Easel ($39.99). Like it’s standing cousin, this one includes chalk- and dry-erase boards. But it’s also magnetic and comes with markers, chalk, and magnets. There are two supplies trays, one of which has cup-sized holes to hold paint or brush-washing water. If your young artist is especially prolific, you can also buy a separate supply and accessory kit ($34.99) that works with either easel or on its own. Comes with poster paint, spill-proof paint cups, brushes, jumbo rainbow chalk, a roll of paper, and more. Ages 3 and up.

kiwi crate from kiwicrateKiwi Crate (www.kiwicrate.com) is a subscription service that delivers a new art project-in-a-box. Each one is designed around a certain theme (such as science, dinosaurs, gardening, colors, animals, superheroes, etc.) and includes three related project ideas and all the materials you need. Just add inspiration and you’re ready to go. There’s additional, related material online. Kits are reviewed by experts and tested by kids and cover a range of developmental areas including creating, discovering, communication, gross- and fine-motor skills. $19.95/month. Ages 3-7.

For older kids or those who may want a bit of a challenge, EK Success Crafts (www.eksuccessbrands.com) has kits and individual supplies for scrapbooking, needlecraft, jewelry making, embossing, painting, creating personalized thank-you notes, and more. Perfect for family projects. Prices vary depending on the product.

paper punk from paperpunkPaper Punk (www.paperpunk.com) is an interesting combination of origami and building blocks. Start by folding paper into geometric shapes, which you then connect using adhesive dots (included) to create a variety of cool things that are a cross between an art project and a toy. You can buy individual kits for snakes, cars, snowmen, robots, dogs, cats, and birthday cakes, or use your paper blocks to build anything you want. Then customize to your heart’s content. $18.95 each. Ages 6 and up.

The Art of Childhood

If you’re like most parents, your refrigerator and walls are covered with your children’s art. But their creative play does a lot more than just make you proud. Kids who are involved in the arts are often more self-confident and self-reliant. Art helps kids improve fine-motor skills, follow directions better, and get along with peers. Various studies have shown that kids who are involved with the arts are more likely to excel academically, participate in math and science fairs, and win awards for writing. Here are some great sets that will help your child find his or her inner Picasso. So roll up your sleeves and get ready to have some fun.

crayola ultimate art caseCrayola’s Ultimate Art Case (www.crayolastore.com) is perfect for the young artist on the go. It comes pre-loaded with all the basic supplies to keep your little Rembrandt busy for hours—pencils, markers, watercolors, brushes, stencils, and more. With lots of internal compartments, organization is easy. And there’s plenty of extra space to store paper, glue, scissors, or anything else that might spark creativity. $15.99. Ages 4 and up.

stand up easel from melissa and dougMelissa and Doug easels come in two sizes. If you have a larger room or space, the Deluxe Standing Wooden Art Easel($79.99) is ideal. It includes a dry-erase board, chalkboard, locking paper-roll holder, child-safe paper cutter, easy-to-use clips to keep the paper steady, and a good-sized plastic tray for holding supplies. The easel is adjustable, so it can keep growing right along with your child.

table top easel from melissa and dougIf you have less space or want something a bit more portable, try the Tabletop Art Easel ($39.99). Like it’s standing cousin, this one includes chalk- and dry-erase boards. But it’s also magnetic and comes with markers, chalk, and magnets. There are two supplies trays, one of which has cup-sized holes to hold paint or brush-washing water. If your young artist is especially prolific, you can also buy a separate supply and accessory kit ($34.99) that works with either easel or on its own. Comes with poster paint, spill-proof paint cups, brushes, jumbo rainbow chalk, a roll of paper, and more. Ages 3 and up.

kiwi crate from kiwicrateKiwi Crate is a subscription service that delivers a new art project-in-a-box. Each one is designed around a certain theme (such as science, dinosaurs, gardening, colors, animals, superheroes, etc.) and includes three related project ideas and all the materials you need. Just add inspiration and you’re ready to go. There’s additional, related material online. Kits are reviewed by experts and tested by kids and cover a range of developmental areas including creating, discovering, communication, gross- and fine-motor skills. $19.95/month. Ages 3-7.

For older kids or those who may want a bit of a challenge, EK Success Crafts (www.eksuccessbrands.com) has kits and individual supplies for scrapbooking, needlecraft, jewelry making, embossing, painting, creating personalized thank-you notes, and more. Perfect for family projects. Prices vary depending on the product.

paper punk from paperpunkPaper Punk (www.paperpunk.com) is an interesting combination of origami and building blocks. Start by folding paper into geometric shapes, which you then connect using adhesive dots (included) to create a variety of cool things that are a cross between an art project and a toy. You can buy individual kits for snakes, cars, snowmen, robots, dogs, cats, and birthday cakes, or use your paper blocks to build anything you want. Then customize to your heart’s content. $18.95 each. Ages 6 and up.

Mr. Dad and GreatDad.com Announce Spring 2012 Award Winners for Dad-friendly Products

Mr. Dad and GreatDad.com announce their Seal of Approval winners for Spring 2012. Today’s dads are involved in every aspect of parenting and a growing number of companies are developing products with dad’s unique style of parenting in mind.

The Mr. Dad Seal of Approval and GreatDad.com Recommends awards identify products that promote interaction between dads and kids. Trusted by some of the toy world’s biggest brands including Lego, Haba USA, and the Magic Schoolbus Series, the combined awards recognize products and services that help strengthen and empower families, and help strengthen and empower families, and help fathers create memorable, enriching experiences with their children.

“With limited resources and support devoted to fathers, it’s more important than ever to recognize and champion products and services that promote positive parenting and demonstrate a commitment to helping fathers become the parents they want to be,” said Armin Brott.

A panel of dad experts judged products and services based on whether they:

  • Improve the quality of father-child time
  • Improve father child relationships
  • Help dads be better parents and partners
A special emphasis was put on toys and games that bring the whole family together and which dads really will want to get down on the floor and play. “This is especially important for dads (and moms) returning from military deployment and who are going through what is often a tough transition to becoming a family again,” says Banas.

The full list of winners is here.
Info on the Seal of Approval is here.

 

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