Reviews for Toys & Games

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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Goosie Cards — Personalized Custom Flash Cards that Teach and Bring Family Closer Together

Goosie Cards

$16 and up at Amazon.com

Goosie Cards are a great product for several reasons. First, they’re extremely high quality. Large, durable, glossy lamination enables them to withstand a fair amount of bending and biting (it happens occasionally). Next, they’re educational. Using a combination of visual images and printed words, they help babies and toddlers with speech development, preschoolers with pre-reading skills, and young school-aged children with early reading. But what makes Goosie Cards most interesting is that you can personalize each card with your own family photos, thus creating your own custom set of memorable photo flash cards to present to your grandchild. Since they are high quality, in addition to providing a fun learning experience, a set of personalized Goosie Cards have the potential to become a keepsake of sorts, that grandchildren can use to remind themselves of you and other family members, friends, pets, vacation memories, etc. Of course, we love the simple yet effective way Goosie Cards help to strengthen intergenerational family connections. It’s easy to upload photos to their website, and Goosie Cards are produced and delivered quickly. And, if you don’t want to personalize your set, Goosie Cards has a fantastic library of stock photography to choose from to design what they call “Chic” flash cards. Or, you can even purchase a gift certificate so parents can make their own set for your grandchild. You may also appreciate the fact that Goosie Cards were invented by a new mom who saw a unique opportunity to enhance early learning — as well as the fact that they’re made in the USA. Another classic product with a new twist, and executed perfectly!

 

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FeltTales Felt Story Boards: A Simple Classic Toy that Encourages Imaginative Play & Story Telling

FeltTales

$19.95 at Amazon.com

We always appreciate manufacturers who take a beloved, tried-and-true product, and revitalize it, introducing it to a new generation of children who will appreciate it just as much as their parents and grandparents did. FeltTales felt story boards are just this type of simple, classic toy, yet they have a modern look and feel with themes that should appeal to both boys and girls ages 3 and up. In addition to the “Pups in the Park” theme, shown here, you can choose boards ranging from “Pretty Princess,” and “Let’s Go to the Ballet,” for your granddaughters, to “Dinasaur Days,” and “Pirates at Shipwreck Cove,” for your grandsons. On the back of each story board is a “story starter,” in the form of a few rhyming verses regarding characters and theme, to get creative juices flowing if necessary. Each FeltTales story board comes with at least 19 moveable felt pieces that feel great to the touch as only felt can. A bonus is the portability of FeltTales, each having its own travel handle and an attached plastic zip-lock pouch to carry the pieces — a perfect activity to bring to grandparents’ homes (or to a restaurant), and to play with together!

 

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New Twig Wooden Building Blocks Use Renewable Materials for Open Ended Creative Play

Twig Building Block Set by Fat Brain Toys

$49.95 at Amazon.com

Twig wooden building blocks, new from Fat Brain Toys, demonstrate why a product doesn’t need to use the latest technology in order to be the latest sensation. Sometimes a new twist on an old favorite — in this case, wooden blocks — does the trick! The set comes with 72 pieces of all shapes and dimensions that can be mixed and mingled to fit together in countless ways — each way different from the other. My son, who is no stranger to building and construction toys, exclaims, “I can make something different each time and I never know what it will be!” There are so many developmental skills being used and refined with use of this toy — logic and problem solving, artistic expression, visual/spatial ability, sensory awareness, and more. Twig would even appeal to some adults as well, as the pieces are constructed much like the way a brain teaser wooden puzzle is, except there is no wrong answer — only open-ended creativity! They are precision cut and constructed from high quality, highly renewable materials, and painted tastefully in muted primary colors. Twig makes a wonderful gift, and can be passed on and on. Ages 3 and up.

 

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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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Squiggle On-The-Go Travel Doodle Pad: Creative Activity Wherever You Are!

Squiggle On-The-Go

$6.98 at Amazon.com

Squiggle On-The-Go doodle pads are a super creative travel activity. We surprised our kids (4 and 7) with them last week as we began a fairly long drive towards our vacation destination. They immediately began creating, and the more they doodled, the bigger their smiles and sillier their giggles became! Squiggle pads are a cleverly simple concept. Each sheet contains a “squiggle,” or randomly drawn line that your grandchild can use as the basis for their own creative doodle, or full-blown picture. Most of the sets also include a spinning wheel for added game-like dimension. For instance, the original Squiggle On-The-Go (shown here, 5 and up), has you spin and land on any of the letters A through D, each letter corresponding with a different side of the doodle pad. Your grandchild then rotates the pad so that the letter spun is at the top of the pad. However the squiggle line appears in that position is the starting point for their picture. How my son immediately envisioned (and then skillfully drew) a scarecrow in front of a farm — all from just a slightly curved line — is beyond me. It’s all in the way each child sees things — everyone potentially seeing something different — sort of like looking at clouds, or a Rorschach picture. Kids 4 and up will enjoy the themed Sguiggles, such as: Shapes and Colors, which has them draw pictures from shapes; Alphabet, where they spin and land on a letter, then draw a picture from the letter; and Barnyard, where they spin and land on an animal, and then draw that animal from the squiggle line provided on each sheet. Each pad comes with a small travel pencil (Shapes and Colors comes with four colored pencils for coloring/filling in), and the sheets easily tear off the pad. You can either leave the sheets on the pad, or carry a little ziplock bag to easily store all of the completed sheets. Squiggle On-The-Go is a simple yet clever and creative concept — a welcomed alternative to today’s typically electronic road-trip activities. Available through the link below or at all Barnes & Noble locations.

 

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Custom Kid Games’ Rocket Smarts Personalized Computer Game for Ages 3-6

Rocket Smarts by Custom Kids Games

$14.99 at Custom Kid Games

My daughter is thrilled to be the screen star in several new computer learning games, and she loves playing them too! Custom Kid Games (founded by veteran kids software designers) has launched Rocket Smarts CD-ROM for the PC or Mac, perfect for grandchildren ages 3-6 and personalized with your favorite photos of them. There are three games to choose from and in each one your grandchild will star as the adorable little astronaut — the main character, of course!. One game focuses on color recognition and is great for younger (3 year-old) kids. Another game focuses on numbers and counting, asking the player to repeat an action 2 times, 5 times, 8 times, etc. Once players master this task, the game will intuitively become more challenging, asking them to repeat an action “more than” or “less than (3) times. The third game is, perhaps, the most challenging of the three, both in terms of its learning objectives as well as the motor skills it requires. It shows a word and asks the player to transport a certain letter in the word up to the matching letter on the top of the screen. The letter is sometimes upper case and sometimes lower case. On the way up and on the way down, the player needs to avoid hitting any moving objects. As is the case with most computer games, well-supervised play will help your grandchildren to develop their conceptual and fine-motor skills. As mentioned, the overall theme of this first CD-ROM is space, and the retro cartoon design is adorable. You can choose a girl’s or boy’s version — some of the graphics differ, but the play is exactly the same.

 

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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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