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

Transforming Travel Toys

When traveling with children—especially little ones—it’s important to make them feel comfortable and secure wherever they are. But with checked bag fees going nowhere but up, we don’t want to fill up the suitcases and carry-ons with lots of bulky stuff. So to help make transitions—and packing—easier, here are four space-saving products that do double- or triple-duty.

cuddleuppetsCuddleUppets are part blanket, part puppet, and a lot of fun for the kids. At 39” x 28”, they’re about the size of a child’s blankie, and they come in seven varieties, including Blue Elephant, Lady Bug, Unicorn, Purple Monkey, and Green Crocodile. Soft, with paws on each corner and a large, stuffed head, children can use them to put on puppet shows for the family or to give their imagination a workout by themselves. If mom or dad has one too, you may find yourself adding a few extra miles to your car trip or hoping your flight is delayed so you can have more time to play together. When you’re done for the day, the kids can snuggle up with their CuddleUppet and drift off to sleep. CuddleUppets are machine washable and recommended for ages 6 months – 15 years, but unless they come out with one that texts or plays Angry Birds, they really aren’t going to interest anyone much over 6—not including parents, of course. Retail price: $19.99, but available only online at www.cuddleuppets.com

Although Zoobies come in wide variety of styles, our favorites for the family-on-the-go are Blanket Pets and Slumber Pets. Blanket Pets are a stuffed animal, blanket, and pillow all rolled into one. With at least 25 animals to choose from, even the pickiest kids will find something to entertain themselves with in the car, plane, hotel, or grandma’s house. At the end of the day, unzip the plush blanket and use the animal’s head as a pillow (it’s stuffed with microbeads for maximum squishability). Machine washable, Blanket Pets retail for $29.99, although the more collectible “retired” models are more. zoobies.com

zoobies - slumber petZoobies Slumber Pets take Blanket Pets up a notch and come with a lightweight sleeping bag rolled up inside. Available in varieties such as Furbie the Feline, Gumdrop the Golden Retriever, and Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar, they’re great for long car rides, hotel stays, and everywhere else—and there’s a good chance your child will want to use it at home too. Made of Zoobies’ soft fleece and topped off with the Slumber Pet’s microbead head, the sleeping bag (which at 43″ x 22”, is roomy enough for most little ones) zips off for easy washing. Children love sleeping on a large stuffed toy pillow, as well as playing with it during waking hours. As your little one gets ready for bed in an unfamiliar place, snuggle up with her for a story featuring the animal of choice, and help her get ready for another exciting day. Blanket Pets retail for $39.99. zoobies.com

pillowpets from mypillowpetsPillow Pets may have been last year’s hot item, but they’re still fun, easy take-alongs that are perfect for family travel. As with CuddleUppets and Zoobies, Pillow Pets can start the day as a plush, huggable, cuddly friend and end up as a plush, huggable, cuddly pillow. There are dozens of Pillow Pets, and even the littlest hands will be able to operate the “transformer” features (but be warned: in a few years, the word “transformer” will take on a whole new meaning). Retail prices vary with size, but average around $30.00. Check ‘em out at mypillowpets.com and let your child make the final selection.

Safe travels!