Reviews for 12 years and up

Cahootie Puts New Spin on Paper Fortune Teller Game

Cahootie

$5.99 each at Amazon.com

I remember making paper fortune tellers when I was young. For a couple of years it seemed to be the preferred activity among my friends. Many spare moments were spent paired up with someone happy to share their latest pyramid-shaped origami creation, and spread their words of wisdom. Now there’s a new spin on this old favorite and it’s called Cahootie. Cahootie enhances this experience by assigning a theme to each fortune teller, and by encouraging positive open-ended conversation with friends and family to naturally occur with each activity. Each Cahootie is pre-made — nicely designed using sturdy coated cardboard and adorned with vibrant illustrations and strategically placed words related to the assigned theme. My Cahootie is appropriately called “My Fab Family,” and encourages discussion among peers and family members about family activities and relationships. Each Cahootie comes with reusable stickers containing questions, such as, “what is your favorite family activity,” that kids can stick on to their fortune teller. There are also a few assignments, such as, “call your favorite uncle, and tell him why he’s so special to you.” The intended goals are to form positive connections, promote self-esteem and self-discovery — extremely important during the “tween” years. Cahootie’s physical design and the way one plays the game (spelling out the words your partner chooses by moving the Cahootie this way and that, opening the secret flaps, etc.), certainly resemble the game we all played. But the meaningful conversation-starter component is all new. Instead of discovering playful fortunes, your grandchild has the potential to discover so much more.

 

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Bananagrams: Portable Word Game That’s Faster and More Free-Form Than Scrabble

Bananagrams

$11.75 at Amazon.com

We recently picked up Bananagrams and are wondering why we didn’t join in on the fun sooner! I’ve never been a big Scrabble fan, partly because of the game’s slow pace. But this variation on the classic word game is a “bunch” of fun! Although Bananagrams doesn’t claim to be a form of Scrabble, it does contain some of the essential elements of the game — forming words using letter tiles and arranging them in crossword fashion. From there it takes off… fast! All players play independently at the same time, and that’s what keeps the pace going. No board is necessary — a table or floor space is all you need. Each player starts out choosing 21 tiles/letters (the “bunch”) and can immediately begin forming words and arranging them (and constantly re-arranging them if necessary), until his/her letters are used up. If you can’t use a letter, then you must say “Dump,” and discard that letter, taking 3 letters in return. But the game doesn’t end there. Once a player’s original 21 tiles are used, he/she must say “Peel,” and take a tile from the “bunch” of leftover tiles. At that time, all other players must also take a tile. This continues until there are fewer tiles in the “bunch” than there are players. The fact that the game is so portable — simply a bunch of small letter tiles in a canvas banana shaped bag — makes it easy to bring anywhere. And the fast, free-form style enables children to participate. Our kids are practicing their spelling, and at the same time, we’re all enjoying a fun game together. Invented by a family spanning three generations, it’s no wonder that Bananagrams is such a fantastic intergenerational activity!

 

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SET — Incredible Pattern Recognition & Visual Perception Card Game for All Ages

SET

$8.20 at Amazon.com

SET has become a family obsession. It’s a superb game, and we all love it. What’s so unique is that it can be challenging for adults, but young children can easily learn how to play and be just as good at it (if not better at it!) as family members of any age. For instance, our 5-year-old daughter is without a doubt, the SET champion of our family, usually putting us all to shame. The card game’s design and rules are simple and elegant, allowing you to exercise your pattern matching and visual perception skills in a serious way, while also having loads of fun! The deck has 81 cards, and you can lay out either 12 or 15 cards at a time. The object is to find sets of 3 cards that have patterns made up of things that are either all the same, or all different. There are 3 colors (red, green and purple), 3 types of shading (outlined, striped or solid), 3 shapes (ovals, diamonds and squiggles), and either 1, 2 or 3 shapes on each card — all of these attributes combining to make possible sets. These rules may sound complicated, but once you start playing you catch on quickly. What makes the game even more fun is that everyone plays against each other (and you can have many playing at the same time). Whoever finds a set first yells “set,” and play stops until that person takes the cards making up the set. Then three new cards are laid down, and so on, until all cards are laid down and there are no more remaining sets. If someone yells “set” but it is not actually a set (this happens often, at least for the adults), a point/card is deducted. And whoever has the most cards in the end wins. What makes this game even better is its portability. Take it on trips, to visits with friends and family — anywhere! It’s a fantastic intergenerational game. Play it with your grandkids and you will be amazed by their ability and also by how much fun you can have playing it together!

 

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Meanings in Motion Life Skills Card Deck Brings Families Closer Together

Meanings in Motion

$15.95 at Amazon.com

We all lead busy lives, and today’s kids are no exception — often running from school and work to sports and other activities, then rushing home to do homework, have dinner, and hopefully get enough sleep… only to do it all again the next day. Weekends and school vacations are sometimes the only time family members really have to relax, play, spend time together, and… talk. Talks don’t always have to be serious, and sometimes just plain silliness is the best way to connect. Other times (and I suspect we don’t use these moments nearly enough) are great for discussion, and getting to know each other — even if you think you already know all there is to know. Meanings in Motion life skills card deck is a new activity developed by a social worker who counsels children of all ages. It’s basically a tool to help us all — regardless of age — to do some self-reflecting. The card deck is actually a fun way to remind us of some important qualities and life skills we should use and exhibit throughout life. Each card prompts us to ask ourselves, and each other, questions relating to these practices (and how they make us feel), and we respond to these questions as honestly and accurately as possible. Of course, the depth of responses can vary radically depending on the age of the family member, but what’s so unique and refreshing is that grandparents, parents, children, and other family members or friends, are all on the same playing level — and there are no wrong answers! One great place to start with a younger child is the “feelings” card, the illustrated side featuring simple smiley faces, silly faces, sad faces, confused faces… you get the picture. The questions on the back include: “why do we have feelings,” “what purpose do they serve,” “what is one feeling you struggle with the most,” and “can you have more than one feeling at a time.” Some of the other life skills highlighted in the cards are: integrity, gratitude, honesty, compassion, self-esteem, positive thinking, forgiveness, building boundaries, balance, empathy, creativity, and peace (a state of calm). Now you see why this is a great activity for all family members of any age. We can all use these reminders, and talking to each other about how these qualities come into our lives can only bring us closer together. In addition to carefully crafted questions, each card also includes suggested activities. For instance, the “positive thinking” card suggests limiting exposure to negativity, choosing to be around positive people, and avoiding negative gossip and bad news. It also suggests reading inspirational books and poems, and re-telling stories that you’ve found to be uplifting. Another thing that makes Meanings in Motion successful is that each card is so beautifully designed. The sturdy, laminated, oversized cards feature colorful, whimsical, and often comical photographs and illustrations to represent the idea each card is meant to convey. For instance, the card dealing with “diversity” features a full tray of donuts, all decorated in their own unique way, yet all looking equally delicious. Meanings in Motion is a different kind of gift, for sure. But it has the potential to help family members of all ages with their own individual self-development, while at the same time bringing everyone closer together.

 

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Published Letters from Children to President Obama: Great Gift for Grandkids, Parents or Anyone!

Dear President Obama: Letters of Hope from Children Across America

$17.95 at Amazon.com

Children in America were well aware that history was made in November 2008, but their thoughts and reactions were bound to get lost among the flurry of news reports and adult conversations. That’s why it’s refreshing to read this new collection of children’s letters to President Obama, complete with hopes, fears, well-wishes, illustrations, and expressions of downright elation. Children ages 4 – 18 from all areas of the U.S. are represented and have a lot to say. Some of the letters made me smile — kids have been know to do that! For instance, I got a chuckle out of “Have fun at the White House,” “Do you believe in ghosts,” and much more. Other letters made me realize just how aware kids are of what our country’s issues are. Questions like, “Is the White House Eco-Friendly,” and “P.S. I’m 8 years old and I want to change the world. How Can I,” are just a sampling of some of the thoughts going through kids’ minds. 200 letters and drawings were collected by journalists Bruce Kluger and David Tabatsky immediately following the election. Linda Ellerbee wrote the Foreword, a nice addition that does not outshine the very real sentiment expressed by our youngest, yet extremely active and concerned citizens. Letters to President Obama makes a great gift for your grandkids, but adults will equally appreciate it.

 

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Sparklehearts – Natural Bath & Body Products for Girls

Sparklehearts Natural Beauty for Girls

$12.49 at Sparklehearts

At some point during grade school and certainly by middle school, many girls become interested in body care and beauty products. But have you ever read the labels on the bottles of your typical body wash, moisturizing lotion, shampoo or conditioner? You’ve probably found that most of the ingredients are almost impossible to pronounce. In fact, some of them, like Paraben, Phthalate, Sodium Lauryl/Laureth, and Sulfate, can be downright dangerous! Two moms concerned about these health and safety issues developed Sparklehearts — a new line of beauty products that appeals to girls, and eases the minds of those who love them. Made in the U.S.A from 99.6% natural organic ingredients, such as, evening primrose, sweet almond protein, violet extract, rosemary, shea butter, green tea, sage, nettle extract and willow bark, Sparklehearts products are worry-free, and still do what they are intended to do. Hillary Orr and Darcy McMahon put a lot of time into the vibrant, playful packaging of the line, so that a girl (lets say, ages 7-14), would want to use them. And the positive message (“sparklehearts,” representing inner beauty), as well as the “back to basics” ingredients, make them a winning product and a perfect gift for girls. Oh, and they smell great, too! Currently the line includes: Bubbly Blooms Body Wash, Shine Shampoo, Rainbow Soft Conditioner, Sweet Hearts Sparkly Lotion and Peace Out No Knots Hair Detangler.

 

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Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field and Others Now Available! Ballpark Classics Hardwood Tabletop Game

Ballpark Classics

$279.00 at Ballpark Classics

Whether you and your grandchildren are in the heat of the baseball season and loving every moment of it, or muddling through the off-season, Ballpark Classics is a wonderful way to celebrate the game together indoors. Ballpark Classics is a finely crafted 3-dimensional hardwood game resembling a ballpark and equipped to simulate just about any scenario possible between pitcher and batter. Fastballs, sliders, walks, strikeouts, home runs — anything’s possible! The “pitching pipe” allows you to adjust your thumb and fingers to throw different types of pitches — and as with any game, practice makes perfect. When hitting, there is a mechanism that actually lets you feel the ball hitting your bat, so whether you hit a single (through a gate in the fence), or a home run (over the fence or back up the pitching pipe), you can actually experience the satisfaction of it as you might experience it playing the actual game in an actual park. The game is fast-paced and realistic, which makes it appealing to the younger generations (great for kids 8 and up). And older generations love the heart and soul that was clearly put into the design of Ballpark Classics — it takes just one look to realize that a long-time baseball fan conceived it. In fact, Doug Strohm developed the first version of the game as a teenager in 1976. Thousands of hours of product development time have passed and what you have is a beautifully nostalgic game with a design inspired by some of our country’s beloved ballparks. It even includes some vintage advertisement decals so you can personalize your park. There are no batteries or electricity needed, and it’s made in USA! So connect with your family members face-to-face, and enjoy America’s great pastime year-round. And as of Spring 2009, you can now special order some of your favorite ballparks! Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium and Busch Stadium. Surprise the baseball fans in your life — not just for grandkids!

 

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Don’t Worry – HEXBUG Micro Robotic Creatures Are Fun To Live With

HEXBUG Micro Robotic Creatures

$9.99 - 19.99 at HEXBUG

We were delighted — and not the least bit squeamish — to be introduced to our little HEXBUG friends at Toy Fair in New York last month. HEXBUGS are beautifully designed and affordable micro robotic creatures appropriate for ages 8 and up. Currently there are three models available for purchase — the “bug,” the “inchworm,” and the “crab” — while the newest “ant” will be available this spring. We’ve fallen hard for our green inchworm, the only HEXBUG that is controlled by a tiny infrared remote control unit. What’s fascinating about it is its steering capabilities, and its ability to pirouette in place when stopped on its center pod foot. The HEXBUG crab reacts to light and sound, hiding in shaded areas until a loud sound or exposure to light chases it out into the open. The original bug reacts to touch and sound, and the newest ant has legs and wheels that allow it to move faster than the others. Each HEXBUG comes with button cell batteries included and are available in a variety of fun colors. Your grandkids don’t need to be robot fans to enjoy HEXBUGS — anyone, including adults, will have fun with them. Their affordability makes them great surprise gifts, and, unlike real bugs, anyone would be happy to have them roaming around the house!

 

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Handcrafted and Heirloom Quality: Fine Wooden Toys, Games & Puzzles Custom-Made for Your Grandchild

Bearded Seal Woodcrafts

$vary at Bearded Seal Woodcrafts

Recently my kids and I have had the pleasure of playing with some of the wooden toys handcrafted by Tom Seal, of Bearded Seal Woodcrafts. We especially appreciate fine handcrafted wooden toys, and these are some of the finest we’ve seen. Tom custom-makes each product entirely by hand. He received his earliest inspiration as a child wandering the forests of his native Pacific Northwest. By high school he was crafting wood, and then honed his skills studying fine arts in college. He applies this appreciation of wood, as well as his knowledge of how to expertly craft it, into each of his products — from vintage wooden cars to classic wooden tangram puzzles. My kids have been vroom vroom’ing around non-stop with a gorgeous classic Ford mustang crafted from Makore & Bolivian Rosewood ($32). The tangrams set is crafted using American Black Walnut, and comes packaged in a decorative silk travel pouch, along with plenty of suggested tangram puzzles ($17 for domestic wood or $22 for exotic). We love tangrams, and what a treat it is to be able to play on such a beautiful set. If you and your grandchild enjoy logic puzzles (and also have some pretty good fine motor skills!), Tom also sells several other logic puzzles, such as a Sword puzzle and 2 Ring puzzle (both $7), as well as games, such as Marble Solitaire ($18). Tom’s signature pieces are his line of beautiful handcrafted wooden rocking horses. The Rocking Thoroughbred can be custom-ordered and made with any of the woods Tom uses (average price is $460). Or choose from various designs crafted from Pine and stained as light Golden Pecan to dark Walnut colors ($134). For a small fee, Tom can add a personalized inscription on many of his pieces. All of Tom’s wooden creations make fantastic kids gifts and, incidentally, are sure to delight all of us grownups, too!

 

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TickleMe Plant (Mimosa Pudica from Seeds) Indoor Plant Kids Gift: A Great Science Kit & Fun for Everyone

TickleMe Plants

$19.95 at TickleMe Plants

The TickleMe Plant (Mimosa Pudica from seeds) kids gift is a great science kit for ages 5 and up and fun for the entire family. Kids can experience the joy and responsibility of growing their own TickleMe plants from seeds, and then interact with them. Once the plants’ mature leaves have grown (within a month under the right conditions), you and your grandchild can literally tickle them and watch them move. This kit includes a reusable recycled plastic greenhouse (the gift’s packaging) to help nurture the seeds, as well as 3 TickleMe seed packets (with 10-20 Mimosa Pudica seeds and growing instructions on the back), 6 flower pots, 6 soil pellets and 10 science experiment ideas, such as: Use a toothpick to try to find out which part of the TickleMe Plant is most sensitive to touch. TickleMe plants can be re-potted when they are big enough and brought outside once temperatures don’t dip lower than 65 degrees. Seeds will take longer to grow in rooms that are cooler than 70 degrees. The company’s website has a Growing Tips section with specific instructions for growing, including tips for the Fall and Winter seasons. And for a budget-friendly gift idea under $10, TickleMe Plants sells a Mini greenhouse gift package that includes 1 seeds packet, 1 flower pot and 1 soil pellet for $5.95. This is a great birthday party favor idea as you can purchase 6 mini kits for $29.95. Parents may also want to mention the idea to teachers, as the company sells classroom science kits. TickleMe Plant Company was actually founded by a science teacher and, thus, has that seal of approval. A fun, creative, and educational gift idea!

 

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