Reviews for $20-50

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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New Personalized Kids Plate and Placemat Set by Olive Kids: Great Colorful Nostalgic Themes!

Personalized Meal Time Plate Sets

$29.99 and up at Olive Kids

Personalized gifts are fun to give — and kids love seeing their names on anything. These personalized melamine kids plate and placemat sets make great gifts and are super functional! The plates and placemats (also sold separately) are a newer product line offered by Olive Kids, a New Hampshire-based mom and dad company that, in addition to designing kids tableware, offers kids bedding, clocks, floor pillows, and other kids room decor items. Olive Kids’ design themes are simple and nostalgic, from “Flowerland,” “Mermaids,” and “Tea Party,” for girls, to “Under Construction,” “Ride ‘Em Cowboy,” “Dinosaurland,” and “Out of this World,” for boys. As you may know, all kids tableware sets are not created equal. These sets are of exceptional quality — the plates are solid and the mats are well-laminated to withstand washing. And, because the many themes Olive Kids offers are carried throughout the product lines, you can continue to purchase gifts from the same theme — for instance, sheets, comforter, clock and tableware — all with the “Out of this World” space theme. Or have fun and mix up the themes. There are plenty to choose from!

 

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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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Snack & Play Travel Tray Keeps Kids Independent and Entertained

Star Kids Snack & Play

$19.99 at Amazon.com

We recently took our first long car ride with the Snack & Play Travel Tray by Star Kids. Our trip was more relaxed than usual because our 4 year-old daughter was able to entertain herself without as much reaching, dropping, and asking for help. The Snack & Play Travel Tray was created by a entrepreneurial mom who wanted to address a problem recognized by most parents — how to keep young children occupied, self-sufficient and happy, with toys, snacks, etc., during extended travel in the car, plane or stroller. What’s novel about this tray is that it is just firm enough to color or roll toys on, yet is still soft and comfortable on a child’s lap. It can be used with any car seat, booster or stroller, and has a mesh pocket hanging from each side so your grandchild can store toys, cups, snacks, etc. This, in conjunction with the fact that the tray itself has a border around it, means a lot less reaching back to hand-over or pick-up hard-to-reach toys. The Snack & Play is manufactured in accordance with European standards, the strictest regulations in the world, and has been crash tested by a federally recognized testing facility — the tray system’s softness makes it much safer than other trays in the case of an accident. The fabric wipes clean and is certified lead and phthalate-free.

 

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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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Inquisitive Minds Enjoy Ask: Ask Magazine Subscription for Kids Ages 7-10

Ask Magazine

$33.95 at Cricket Magazine

Ask Magazine, for kids ages 7-10, is one of several kids educational magazines by Carus Publishing (see our review of Muse Magazine). Ask’s articles focus on arts and sciences, answering questions a grandchild might ask (for instance, Why do we sleep?), in articles that are in-depth and appropriate for kids this age. The Case of the Disappearing Bees, an article appearing in the September 2008 issue, discusses the current crisis that is stumping beekeepers and scientists, and scaring farmers, food manufacturers and all of us who eat the crops bees have always dutifully pollinated. The article’s content is challenging, yet not over the top. An adult would probably need to read along with a 7 or 8 year old, and a 9 or 10 year-old would enjoy reading and learning on their own. Another great article, titled, Say Cheese! The Science of Smiling, discusses the many types of human smiles, as well as those of some animals, such as monkeys. Ask Magazine also includes shorter news stories, called, Scoops, as well as comic strips, contests and letters. A subscription to Ask Magazine makes a great year-long birthday or holiday gift idea. Stay tuned for reviews of more great kids magazines, such as: Babybug Magazine for infants to 3 years; Ladybug Magazine & Click Magazine for ages 3-6; Spider Magazine and Appleseeds for ages 6-9; and Cricket Magazine, Dig Magazine (all about archaeology!), Faces Magazine (about people, places and culture), and more, for ages 9-14.

 

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Idbids Eco-Friendly Educational Kit for Kids: Iddy Biddy Steps for a Greener World

Idbids Eco-Friendly Kids Kit

$39.99 at Amazon.com

Idbids is a beautifully conceived and designed eco-friendly educational kit for kids 3 years and up. It makes learning about how to protect and preserve our environment fun for young children. The Idbids storybook included in the kit (Iddy Biddy Steps for a Greener World) is a sturdy small square book with vibrant photo-like illustrations showing each of the Idbids plush toy characters (Scout the Cloud, Waverly the Water Drop and Lola the Flower) engaging in a earth-friendly activity. It also explains in very simple kid-friendly terms why we should practice what the Idbids preach and the difference each of their recommendations will make to our environment. The storybook then refers kids to the kit’s Field Guide, that touches on more iddy biddy steps (10 total) they can take to make even more of a difference. The steps include: turning off the water while brushing teeth, turning off the lights when leaving a room, recycling, and using both sides of the paper when creating artwork. The guide then suggests that every time your grandchild takes one of these iddy biddy steps, they should color in one of the footprints that appear in the guide. Then, when all of the footprints are colored in, they can go to the Idbids website and print out a certificate of completion. The kit also includes an adorable Idbids character plush toy handcrafted from 100% organic Egyptian cotton and an organic fabric cinch sack that anyone (regardless of age) would enjoy. Of course, the Idbids kit’s packaging is made from 100% recycled paperboard. Idbids’ company motto is “Iddy Biddy Steps Make a Biggie Big Difference.” We predict that kids implementing the principles they learn from this gift (as well as what they learn from their parents, grandparents, teachers, etc.) will begin to understand what this motto means and will have some lots of iddy biddy fun in the process!

 

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Think It Ink It Creative Writing Kits for Kids: They Can Publish their Own Storybook!

Think It Ink It Creative Writing Kits

$9.95 & up at Think It Ink It Publishing

Think It Ink It creative writing kits for kids are like mini creative writing courses, with tools and templates to help your grandchild get the juices flowing, while gaining a sense of completion and satisfaction as they literally publish their own storybook. Choose from four professionally illustrated wordless picture books — with illustrations that are playful and colorful, and that invoke a sense of wonder. The kit includes a sticky-note pad and pencil for the budding author to write a rough draft of the copy to accompany the illustrations and complete their storybook. There are also plenty of helpful tips for the child authors, as well as for adults who may be helping them. The first two pages of each book are instructions that can be read by your grandchildren or can be read aloud to them. They mainly consist of questions to assist with the creative process. For example, in Phase I, or the “Think It” phase, they may want to ask themselves: Who are the characters in the story? What are their names? What happens in the story? How does the story end? In Phase II, or the “Ink It” phase, they can begin writing or dictating their story onto their sticky notes, which then get placed on the appropriate pages with corresponding illustrations. There are similar questions they should ask themselves to guide them in the writing process, such as: What is happening in this picture? Then what happened? And, so on. Finally, in Phase III, or the “Publish It” phase, there are two options for publishing the storybook. One way is for your grandchild (or a helpful adult) to write, or “ink” the story directly into the template book, where the book’s title and author’s name can be written on the front cover. That is how it works if you purchase one of the Think It Ink It kits for $9.95. Or, for a more professional look, and for $29.95, their story can be written online via the company’s website, and then published into a custom hardcover book that includes the author’s photo and bio on the back cover. Either option makes a wonderful gift and a definite keepsake to mark another step in your grandchild’s understanding of the creative process and the power of words.

 

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Star Light Star Bright: New Star Pilot Space Science Kit Helps Kids Navigate the Night Sky

Star Pilot Young Scientist Space Kit

$34.99 at Amazon.com

If your grandchild (age 10+) is interested in stargazing and learning about astronomy, consider this new Star Pilot Space science kit by the award winning Young Scientists Club. The Star Pilot kit is much more than just an introduction to the night sky, although it does an excellent job of covering the basics. It includes an age-appropriate informational booklet, new technology (the “Star Pilot” device) that provides a visual hands-on approach to locating asterisms and constellations (like the Big Dipper), practice cards of the southern and northern hemispheres to help your grandchild learn how to use the Star Pilot, a large visual diagram which doubles as a decorative poster, and supplies to convert an ordinary flashlight into a night vision light. As a bonus, the kit also includes a card that grants you 40 minutes of free membership (and a user’s guide with suggested activities) to SLOOH, a website that allows real-time viewing of space through high-powered professional telescopes in Europe, South America and Australia. As the manual explains, it does take some time and practice to get the hang of using the Star Pilot device. It has a “star ball,” that shows and names the stars that form constellations, a magnifier eyepiece, where you view the lit star ball with one eye, a compass, and dials for focus and brightness control. Our testers needed to use the practice cards, adjusting the distance between them and the Star Pilot, until they learned to align the stars diagrammed on the star ball with those on the cards — as you would do with real stars in the night sky. It’s really a matter of your eyes adjusting to the process via a principle called “binocular fusion,” when one eye sees a picture and the other eye sees a similar (but not exactly the same) picture — and the brain fuses the two pictures into one! The kit’s manual is loaded with facts, snippets of history about the field of astronomy, suggested experiments, and explanations of various worldwide cultural myths and legends about constellations, such as the stories of Orion and Leo. The Star Pilot kit is appropriately targeted to children ages 10 and up, and adults interested in learning a bit of astronomy may also enjoy it. A younger grandchild will probably have difficulty using the Star Pilot device accurately. However, The Young Scientist Club also makes a Magic School Bus Secrets of Space science kit, in addition to other Magic School Bus science kits, that are targeted to age 5 and up.

 

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Child-Friendly Peg Loom Weaving Kit by Harrisville Designs

Peg Loom -- Weaving for Beginners

$20 at Amazon.com

We love Harrisville Designs’ fiber arts kits that teach children how to use their hands to make something functional and beautiful. This Peg Loom kit for beginners (ages 5 and up) is just one of several weaving kits Harrisville sells, in addition to kits for making potholders, knitting, felt making, and more. It includes a child-size handheld hardwood loom with slanted pegs to hold yarn in place, as well as a plastic needle, cotton warp string, and enough yarn to complete a project. This weaving method is easy and satisfying for younger children to use — threading the needle over and under the warp string until they produce their own fabric. And, with a little help from you, they can transform that fabric into their own textile product! Peg Loom and other fiber arts projects help your grandchild to develop fine motor, basic math and concentration skills. And, as an added bonus, they have great intergenerational appeal — it’s easy to envision a grandparent or parent sitting with a child to guide them through a weaving project. While they go about their business of producing high quality knitting yarns and handweaving equipment for both children and adults (check out their website to see their full-size looms and other products), Harrisville Designs is helping to preserve the textile heritage of its town, Harrisville, New Hampshire, where yarn has been spun since 1794. In an age where so many children’s toy and product manufacturers struggle to design something new, it’s refreshing to promote a line of products that keeps an ancient art current, making it available to an appreciative new generation, as well as their parents and grandparents.

 

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