Blog Archives

Ecotronic Kids Flashlight – Requires No Battery

"International Playthings" distributes a full line of great products for kids, and among their many offerings is a fully functional kids flashlight produced by "Ecotronic Ltd." The unique thing about this flashlight is that is does not require any batteries. Instead it is fully powered by a simple squeeze.

There are several flashlights to choose from, with each standing about 4 1/2" high. Currently, each flashlight is patterned after a specific animal, featuring either a farm or zoo animal. We tested two different designs, the tiger and the panda...
Posted in Learning

Roll & Play – A First Game Experience for Your Youngster

Thinkfun, Inc. is a game company that focuses on combining challenging game play with a fun learning
experience. In 1996, "ThinkFun, Inc." released "Rush Hour," the traffic-jam based board game, and today
they continue to create breakthrough games for the younger set.

It is nearly impossible to find games for children under 3-4 years old. Yet, "ThinkFun, Inc." has successfully designed a game which parents can play with kids as young as 18 months old. The game is called "Roll & Play," and it includes a huge plush multi-colored cube and 48 game cards, covering 6 different categories, Emotions, Counting, Colors, Body Parts, Actions and Animal Sounds.
Posted in Learning

Loog Guitars – Creating a strong musical bond with kids



Every once in a while you encounter a product that is so spot on for certain demographic that you know instantly that it could only have been created by a group of passionate enthusiasts.  Loog Guitars fits in that category.  Every detail of the experience seems as though it's been thought out and rethoughout a hundred times in order to hit it just right.  Here's how it goes down. 
 The Loog Guitar is unlike any other kid's guitar on the market today.  But it's more of a philosophical difference that carries on to the product itself.  The Loog comes unassembled as you can see here.  It is designed for kids to have a part in creating their instrument by having the experience of putting it together.  This creates a bond with the instrument that is hard to come by any other way (kind of like the bond you feel with an old classic hand me down instrument).  And it's a lot of fun to watch it come together.

We first met up with the Loog Guitars folks at Toy Fair this past February and couldn't wait to get our hands on one of these after seeing them demonstrated at the show.  I put mine together with my four year old son.  The target age is six and up, but being a music lover who has already started to buy instruments for my son, I couldn't resist.

The packaging was great right out of the box.  Quality all around, simple and cool.  Reminiscent in ways of Apple packaging.  Out of the box you will find the guitar body, guitar neck, tuning keys, string bridge, three nylon strings and assembly screws.  The instructions followed suit with the packaging and were simple, super easy to follow, and effective in assembling everything correctly. You really only need a phillips screwdriver. The entire process took me about an hour but I was going really slow, describing how everything worked to my son.  If you wanted to hurry through it, assembly could take as little as 15 minutes.

Once it was up and running, and tuned correctly, we were off.  Another guide that accompanies the instrument describes multiple ways to tune the guitar and provides simple chord diagrams and progressions.  I chose to tune it to G-B-E so it would replicate the three bottom strings on a standard-tuned 6 string guitar. 

Probably the neatest part is the first time you strum a few chords.  That is when the assembly part of this really shines for the kids.  Their eyes light up as they hear the instrument that they just built start to come to life. 

The guitar sounds great, following suit with the type of quality you would come to expect.  The designers clearly chose not to skimp on the pieces or wood.  They used real materials and the result is a real guitar, something that will stay with you for quite a while, as any musical instrument should.

Loog Guitars can be purchased through their website and select stores around the NYC area.  And they are growing quickly.  It seems to be one of those products that spreads fast by word of mouth.  I know I'll be telling people about it, and it will be a conversation topic around our house for guests who will not have seen anything quite like it.

Retail price is around $215, which is well worth it given the quality and thoughtfulness that has gone into every aspect of the experience.  This is the neatest kid's musical item we have ever seen.
-- Andrew Joseph

Also, it's worth noting that Loog Guitars has what I consider to be one of the most enjoyable presences on Twitter.  Their posts are always compelling and one that I look forward to every day.  Follow them here.

Here is our completed Loog Guitar

Posted in Building, Learning

Word Teasers – Learn With a Smile



Susan Flora and Jack Roberts, backed with experience in educational publishing and marketing, created "Word Teasers," which are 3" x 3" cards that teach or stimulate fun conversations based on various topics.  The cards can be used in a game format, as an educational tool, or in whatever way is right for you.  

There are currently 7 different versions of "Word Teasers" available, including "Funny Sayings," where the cards explain idiomatic expressions such as "no spring chicken."  There is a set covering "World Geography," a set covering "American Heroes and Legends," and a great "SAT Vocabulary" set designed for those studying for the SAT/ACT exam.  Additionally, there is a "Junior" set, including vocabulary words that kids should know by the 6th grade, and a "Small Fry" set with words that kids should know by the 2nd grade. Finally, the newest set is called "Origins," where words and phrases borrowed from other languages are fully explained.  For example, did you know that the word "snarky," which means "testy or irritable," is a Low German expression meaning "to snore."


The card sets are of high quality, with both the front and backs of all cards being utilized.  There are various color schemes all keyed to matching the topics, so if cards are mixed together from other sets, they can easily be separated.  There are 150 cards in each set.

We had 6 sets of "Word Teasers" and we decided to pass them out to 4 different families, choosing which set we thought would be best for each family. 

We asked that they read the instruction card, and then play the game, stressing maximum flexibility in using the cards.  We distributed the cards just prior to a weekend, and returned to get feedback the next week.

The first family had been given the "SAT Vocabulary" card set, because they had a son who was a junior in high school, and he was currently preparing to take the SAT exam.  He and his parents agreed that the cards were a solid preparation tool, much like flash cards, for the vocabulary portion of the exam.  They asked if there were cards available for the Math portion of the exam yet?  We indicated that although not currently available, the creators of "Word Teasers" were well aware of that question.  This suggestion could also be expanded to include a potential card set for the Science portion of the ACT exam as well.

The second family had two small children, and they received the "Small Fry" set.  They used the cards as a sort of test, asking their kids if they knew the meanings of various words.  The parents were very impressed with the photographs on the 'Small Fry" Cards, as well as the way the cards allowed the kids to answer questions or act out certain words.  For example, one of the cards said "Act like a Monkey," and another simply asked, "What would you buy with 5 nickels?" 

The third family had no children, so we gave them the "American Heroes and Legends," and the  "World Geography" set.  It was a good chance to see if an adult pair might enjoy "Word Teasers." We obviously picked the right couple, because both of them had a good time trying to best each other on their knowledge of both subjects.  They concurred that they learned some new facts about some famous people, and they did not know nearly as much about "World Geography" as they had thought.  The "World Geography" set used multiple choice questions, and the "American Heroes and Legends" set was done by reading a provided quote, and then picking out the famous American from that clue.  The couple was humbled, but they both agreed they had a great time with "Word Teasers."

The fourth and final family received both the "Funny Sayings," and "Origins" card sets.  We felt this family in particular was a good fit for these sets because the family included not only mom, dad and a teenage daughter, but the dad's mother was also living with them, providing an older generation and a totally different perspective on things.  Their comments were very revealing.

The family had decided to alternate the use of each set from one turn to the next.  They would first pull out a "Funny Sayings" card, and read it to one family member and see if they could answer the question or follow the instructions.  For example, "Name someone you know who is "long in the tooth," apparently brought lots of laughter."  Then they would follow that by selecting an "Origins" card and reading that to another family member.  They felt the "Origins" cards were not quite as humorous, although they found them very challenging.  Their most interesting comment related to the teenage daughter, who apparently had gained a new respect for her grandmother, who was  familiar with every "Funny Saying," read to her while the younger granddaughter struggled a bit with many of them.  The difference in age was an advantage to the grandmother in this case.  Everyone loved the cards and the family interaction.

We believe "Word Teasers" will "sell like hotcakes" at $15.00 per set. To make a purchase, go to the Word Teasers website.
-- RJ Cullen

Posted in Learning

ToysBulletin.com Tests DuneCraft’s Themed Science and Nature Kits





We met some great folks from DuneCraft at the 2012 Toy Fair in NY. DuneCraft specializes in fun and educational science and nature kits.  They aim to "teach kids without them even knowing they are learning."  And from looking at their full line of kits, which include themes that will be irresistable to most kids, it's apparent they know how to do this.

DuneCraft was of particular interest to me because I have two young boys who had recently been trying to grow some venus fly traps purchased online.  But it was challenging, requiring more technical skill than any of us had. 

DuneCraft takes a decidedly different approach, providing everything you need in the box to grow the plants while including those extras that make the experience even more enjoyable for the kids.

So let's get started.  This is the first post in what may become a series with updates on how our kits are growing.  As of today, we have planted 3 of the 4 kits we have (the remaining kit is the Carnivorous Creations, which we will post at a later time).

Rainforest Biosphere

The first kit was called the Rainforest Biosphere and this theme with its images of tree frogs and what one kid said was "the bird from Rio (the movie)" was an instant hit.

This was the most elaborate of the kits so far.  It includes a growing dome, two germination discs, four seed packets, small rocks and a little tree frog.

You simply place the two germation discs in 4 cups of water and it will dissolve becoming a wet soil type mixture which you then scoop into the dome.  The instructions are super easy to follow and even recommend you carving out water paths in the soil with an included rock.

We carved some paths and made four separate areas for each of the four seed packets.

The seeds it comes with are China Doll, Polka Dot Plant, Moon Flower and Rainbow Plant.  Once you drop the seeds in each of the areas the kids noted the included plant stakes which mark each seed territory.  Just another nice touch that enhances the intrigue for little kids.

That was all it took.  Now we will wait for a few weeks to see how it looks. Retail price is $24.99.

Volcano Crater Garden

The older boys will jump at this one because of the dragons.  All kids love dragons, and now they can create their very own bi-level "dangerous garden" complete with Venus Fly Traps and Black Dragon Coleus. 

This kit follows almost the same instructions as the Rainforest Biosphere, except it has only one germination disc so it is slightly smaller overall.  But the bi-level is neat, where you grow the Fly Traps on one level and the Black Dragon Coleus on the next (we accidentally flip flopped our plantings from the directions so we will see how they turn out). 

The included dome has some great decals of fly traps and a dragon volcano back sticker that really set the theme.  The stickers are great because the kids can't see any growth upon planting.  But they can still get a feel for the theme of the kit.  And then of course, DuneCraft includes a small hand painted dragon that you can put inside your dome.  That was another hit with the kids.

This kit was assembled a few minutes quicker than the Rainforest kit.  Once you get the hang of these, they are very easy and you can get the kids even more involved with stirring the soil and planting the seeds.

You'll see our completed kit in the photos below.  Retail price on this one was $19.99

Fly Trap Fred

This is a great little kit that I wish I would have found earlier.  Retail price is only $2.99 and it's a fun and easy kit designed to get kids going in the science and nature realm.  This kit includes a small germination disc which again creates the growing soil which you scoop in the dome.  You simply plant the seeds, pop the lid on and you're off.

A unique element to this kit is how eco friendly it is.  The planter and dome are both made from a corn resin, which is also nice to see.  I should also mention that DuneCraft is the world's largest buyer of carnivorous seed and all the seeds are farm grown on hundreds of acres of private nursery land dedicated to DuneCraft seed. 

Here are images of the completed kits which will be sitting in the sunlight for the next month.  The seeds vary in the time required to begin sprouting.  Some seeds may sprout in a week to two weeks while others may take a month.  We plan on keeping you posted as our kits mature.
-- Andrew Joseph



Rainforest Biosphere


Volcano Crater Garden


Fly Trap Fred

Posted in Learning

Super Spiral Play Tower – Fast and Easy to Play


"Kidoozie" is known for creating fun, simple toys for toddlers, and is one of the many successful brands under the "International Playthings LLC" banner of toys. The "Super Spiral Play Tower" was designed for kids 18 months and up, and requires no batteries. After simple assembly, there stands a tower containing 5 curves and slots at the bottom to capture either a ball, a small penguin or a crafty frog who travels down a center shaft between the curves.

Because of the intended age group, we tested the "Super Spiral Play Tower" on several youngsters under the age of 3 years old. We relied on our pre-school contacts to provide an empty classroom, where we first demonstrated the toy and then stepped back to watch the fun.

The kids immediately grabbed the balls and placed them on the spiral curves. The balls quickly traveled down the path landing in their intended slot. The penguin followed the same path as the balls, but spun around and around as it traveled downward. The frog would not follow the spiral curve as it was a bit too large, and was intended to only go down the shaft, where it whistled as it descended. A push of a large yellow button then released the frog so he could do it once again. The kids quickly discovered that the balls and penguin could not go down the shaft, but only around the curves.

Although they tried to force things just a bit, they really didn't care, and continually started return trips along the spiral curve. None of the kids wanted to leave when the parents insisted it was time to go. One little guy really wanted to take the frog home with him. I think mom promised him something to get him to release his grip on the whistling frog.

The smiles on the kids faces told the whole story for us. This was a winning toy for sure. It is sturdy, made of quality materials, very educational and it simply works as advertised. The "Super Spiral Play Tower" can usually be found for around $30.00. Look for it at Amazon.com.
-- RJ Cullen
Posted in Baby and Toddler, Learning

Doodle Roll – Portable, Handy Fun for Kids

"Doodle Roll" is distributed by "Imagination Brands Co. LLC.," and they have discovered a novel idea for entertaining youngsters from ages 3-8. "Doodle Roll" provides a roll of paper in a clear plastic dispenser that can easily be pulled out to any desired length. The paper can then be torn from the roll along a special "tear edge." The unused paper then feeds back into the dispenser. Crayons are furnished with each "Doodle Roll," allowing children to draw, write, play games, or whatever they choose on the provided paper.

There are two sizes of "Doodle Roll," the larger roll contains 30 feet of paper 6 inches wide, with 8 crayons, and the smaller roll contains 15 feet of paper 4 inches wide, with 4 crayons. There are refills available as well. The price of a larger "Doodle Roll" is around $5.00 and the smaller goes for $4.00.

This is a great item for both kids and their parents. "Doodle Rolls" are compact enough in size to fit easily into mom's purse, ready if needed when youngsters need something to keep them occupied while at restaurants, on airplanes, in waiting rooms, or just anywhere. And they are lots of fun at home too. It is a perfect choice for those rainy days when the kids say they have nothing to do, and cleanup is a snap.

We took one large roll and one small roll over to a pre-school class of 6 children, all under the age of 5 years old. We had arranged things ahead of time with the teacher, and our plan was to drop off the two "Doodle Rolls," and then return an hour later and see what happened. We explained to the teacher how to use the dispenser, and gave her the crayons, and told her to just let the kids do their thing during the "arts and craft" part of their day.

After returning to the school, we were greeted by a long banner thanking us for bringing in "Doodle Rolls." The banner was made with a 10 foot section from the larger "Doodle Roll." The teacher then made each child tell us what they had done during their time with the "Doodle Roll." Most of the kids were a bit shy, but they all were eager to at least show us what they had done. We saw drawings of their mom, dad, brothers, sisters, their homes and several dogs. Some of the really young kids had simply doodled and scribbled, but they were still proud of their drawings. The teacher said "Doodle Rolls" had kept the entire group very busy for most of the time we were gone. She was impressed and so were we.

Look for "Doodle Roll" at Amazon.com or specialty stores everywhere.
-- RJ Cullen
Posted in Learning

Alphabeasts-Alphabet Books – A Fun Way to Learn Your ABCs




 
 
"Alpha Toys, LLC" successfully launched a line of 26 plush 15 inch "Alphabeasts," each showcasing one letter of the alphabet. The front and back of each "Alphabeast" shows off two distinct bright colors with one side displaying the uppercase letter, and the reverse side showing the lowercase letter. Each of the "Alphabeasts" resides in "Alphaland," inside a giant tree, where they work together to spell words with their letters.

To complement these fun and squeezable creatures, "Alpha Toys LLC" has just released a set of "Alphabeasts-Alphabet Books." There are 26 books in the set, with each 8 page book measuring 4" x 4". The pages are made of sturdy heavy duty card stock, and each of the books introduces 3 words that begin with that specific letter. The "Alphabeasts," are featured in each of the books, as they teach their own letter to the reader. The "Alphabeasts" have their own names and personalities, as described and shown on the front and back of each book.

These books are a clever way to teach the alphabet to youngsters as young as just 18 months. It is also entertaining to read the funny personality descriptions pertaining to each "Alphabeast."

We gathered a group of pre-school kids, including one younger brother, who was just under two years old. We set up a table with chairs and took out the books and showed the kids the pictures and introduced them to the letters of the alphabet. They wanted to hold the books, and look at the illustrations, which we encouraged. We read the personality descriptions for many of the "Alphabeasts," so there was a connection with the individual letters. The youngsters seemed to grasp the idea of letter and word recognition, although their attention span was limited to about 15 minutes. That was fine, as it might be best to only bring out two or three books at a time for "one on one" sessions with your own child. The youngest in the group did a lot of pointing and laughing, which we found to be a good first step.

The parents were excited about the experience, and enjoyed offering encouragement to the kids, as we opened and introduced the various letter books. Without exception, all of the parents found the books to be an impressive learning tool, and all agreed the retail price of $15.99 to be very reasonable for the full set of books.

"Alphabeasts-Alphabet Books" can be purchased at www.thealphabeasts.com, which also has some great videos, and much more information. You can also check out the full-line of "Alphabeast" creatures at the same time. They each retail for that same $15.99.
-- RJ Cullen
Posted in Learning








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