Very Best Toys for Babies and Toddlers

babygiftguide Very Best Toys for Babies and Toddlers Children learn through play and, as parents, we want to make sure that they have the very best toys and environment for learning.  We don’t care for “hot” toys or fleeting fads.  We look for high quality, well-made toys that will have staying power for your child. There are so many options so we’ve put together our Very Best Toys guides to help you choose the very best for your child.

Our 10 Very Best Toys for Babies & Toddlers

We love natural materials like wood which is a sensory treat for your child.   It looks great, feels great, sounds great when rattled, stacked and knocked over and sometimes even smells great! As long as it is natural or colored with non-toxic stains/paints, it will be safe for your little one to chew or suck on.  It’s not an accident that all of our picks are either made in the USA or in Germany!

Rattles & Clutching Toys

At this age, rattles and clutching toys help improve grasping skills and eye-hand coordination.

1.  Our Haba clutching toys such as the adorable Flapsi Rattle and the Magica clutching toy are made in Germany of sustainable wood and non-toxic water-based stains.  My Very Own Rattle is a classic rattle made in Vermont of a single piece of maple.  Generations of parents have chosen this as their favorite.

Wooden Blocks

Educators and child development experts agree that if you are going to get one toy for your child it should be a wooden block set.  It’s the perfect open-ended, creative activity for kids of any age – it also helps with spatial, eye-hand and motor skills.  It promotes problem-solving, social and verbal skills and is a great way to learn architectural and engineering principles.  Kids can create, share and tell stories using wooden blocks.  Here are our favorites:

2. Haba Patience Blocks & Discovery Blocks  (ages 1+)

When is a block not a block?  When it has bells, mirrors, rattling balls and buttons!  Each set comes with six colored wooden blocks.  The Patience Blocks have wooden balls and track behind a plexiglass window and the Discovery Blocks have cubes with a bell, kaleidoscope lens, push button, mirror, yellow lens, and rattling ball. These first stacking toys encourage sensory observation and fine motor skills.

3. Haba Baby’s First Blocks  (ages 6 months+)

The perfect first set of simple blocks for your baby!   These 12 simple cubes are in 6 basic colors that your child can hold and stack.  Blocks are a wonderful way for your baby to develop fine motor skills and learn about stacking and cause and effect.   Use them to teach colors and matching.  Like these other Haba toys, they are made in Germany of beechwood from sustainably grown forests. The blocks are colored with non-toxic water-based stains.

4.  Alphabet Blocks from Uncle Goose (ages 24 months+)

Uncle Goose’s  28-piece English Wooden Alphabet Block Set is patterned after blocks from the turn-of-the-century and printed in the safest inks available.  Each block features a unique animal picture, a number or math symbol, and four upper case letters (two embossed), for a total of four complete alphabets.The blocks are made of basswood that is sustainably grown in the USA.

5. Haba Fantasy Blocks  (ages 1-5)

This is one of the most beautiful block sets that I’ve ever seen. This unique 26-piece block set adds a new twist to block play with vivid colors, patterns and designs. The Fantasy Block set includes different shapes and features – including staircases, roof tops, hidden bells, holograms – even the sun!  Great for stacking, building and story-telling. Winner of Dr. Toy’s Best Classic Toy Award  Made in Germany of sustainably-grown beechwood and colored with non-toxic water-based stains. Some blocks are embellished with high quality acrylic or foil.

6. Haba Stick Together Blocks (Ages 1+)

These are one of the most popular block sets.  The colorful blocks have pegs on top and recesses on bottom so stacked blocks stay in place. Great for eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills. Perfect for the young architect in your household. 13 pieces. Made in Germany.

Building Toys

7. Haba My First Ball Track (Ages 18 months+)

We’re big fans of ball track and marble runs and this is a great introduction to the world of ball track for your toddler. Get an early start on developing spatial sense, fine motor skills and patience.  The colorful connecting blocks come with pivots that easily lock into place on the bottom of the ball track pieces. This makes constructing easy and keeps the track in place even if your little one bumps against it!  Your child will love the ding of the bell on the finishing block and the special effects ball that glitters, rings or rattles when it rolls.  As you child gets older, this set will nicely complement any of Haba’s ball track sets. Made in Germany. Ages 1-1/2 – 5.

8. Lighthouse Stacking Toy (Ages 1+)

Stacking toys are a staple of childhood. Haba’s Lighthouse Stacking Game stacks easily and is stable as the pieces have lugs on the top and sockets on the bottom.  Your child will have hours of fun stacking the blocks in different order.  Made in Germany of beechwood and non-toxic water-based stains.

9. Haba Noah’s Ark Building Block Set (Ages 3+)

This HABA Noah’s Ark wooden block set has unlimited play value. Your child can act out the story of Noah and the Flood, of course. Or – how about settlers in a new land, or an expedition searching for rare animals? Made in Germany.  Recipient of Dr. Toy Best Classic Toy award and Spiel Gut Toy award.

10. Roy Toy 250-piece Deluxe Log Cabin Building Set  (Ages 3+)

These are the original log cabin logs and they’re still made in the USA!  This deluxe set is made of 100% pine from Maine.  The wooden pieces even smell great!   The set comes with enough parts to build many structures:  farmhouse, forts, barn with silo & corral, treehouse, and any structure that young minds and hands can devise. I love that the set comes in a large, sturdy canvas bag with rope tie.

Any of these are great toys for your child.  What are your favorites?

 

 

 

DIY Lava Lamps

lavalamp 225x300 DIY Lava LampsWe just participated in the Champlain Mini Maker Faire at Shelburne Farms in Vermont.  IMG 21471 300x225 DIY Lava LampsAre you familiar with the Maker Movement?  The Maker Movement celebrates a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) mindset – from arts and crafts to science and engineering.  There seems to be a focus on technology which is a great way to introduce kids to STEM or STEAM. (STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, math.)

 

 

 

There were great robotics demonstrations but our decidedly low-tech DIY lava lamps were incredibly popular.  Even the robotics club high-schoolers and adults loved them!

Lava Lamps – Great Science Project

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This project is a great opportunity for kids to learn about density, color mixing and the properties of carbon dioxide. Ask questions like:

  • Which liquid is on top? Why?
  • Why does it bubble?
  • How does the color bubble up through the oil?
  • Why do the color droplets not burst until they hit the water?

Everyone seemed fascinated about how they “worked” so we decided to write up a tutorial. A lot of teachers were interested in making the lava lamps in class and we talked about how you could break up the steps to accommodate multiple days of learning.  More than 100 kids made lava lamps at our event, so we bought our supplies in bulk but here are directions for making one lava lamp.  Just multiply the ingredients for however many makers you have.

IMG 21121 e1413571371217 225x300 DIY Lava LampsSupplies Needed

  • Empty bottle with cap (12 oz water bottles work well.)
  • Oil (vegetable or baby oil)
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • Alka Seltzer tablets broken into 3 or 4 pieces
  • Plastic funnel
  • Plastic or metal tray (or something to capture spills if they happen!)
  • Flashlight or other light source
  • Cleaning supplies (oil is slippery!)

 

Lava Lamp Directions

  • Using a funnel, fill the bottles 1/4 full with water.
  • Again, using a funnel, fill the remaining 3/4 of the bottle with oil.
  • Once the water and oil are separated, add 5-6 drops of food coloring.  You can adjust this as you like. The more the better, I think.
  • Watch the drops of oil float down through the oil.  They remain intact as they float down and it’s pretty fascinating to watch.  They’ll lay on the bottom layer of the oil until they break through to the water and the droplets of color burst and color the water.
  • Next, add a piece of the Alka Seltzer tablet.  The carbon dioxide brings up the color into the oil.  When the bubbling stops, just add another piece of the tablet.
  • Shine a flashlight through the side or bottom of the bottle.

IMG 21491 e1413571495682 225x300 DIY Lava Lamps

 

Observations and Tips

  • We used vegetable oil. The vegetable oil worked well but it’s yellow in color so baby oil might be nicer since it is clear.
  • Let the oil and water completely separate, if you can.  This might be a good stopping place to let the bottle sit overnight.   You don’t have to wait for it to completely separate but it will be more visually powerful when you add the food coloring.
  • We had adults pour the water and oil. You can decide if you’d like to make this a pouring activity for kids.
  • Bottles size doesn’t matter unless you are trying to economize on oil (it can get expensive!) Most of ours were 12 oz which means 8-9 oz of oil per bottle. When we ran out of 12 oz bottles, we moved to 8 oz bottles.  They worked just as well as the 12 oz bottles.
  • Make sure the caps fit!
  • We used baking trays with a shallow lip to catch any spills. The shallow trays let little ones see their lamps.
  • Young children might need help putting the food coloring drops into the bottle.  Nearly every child was able to drop the Alka Seltzer pieces in.
  • Color mixing:  we found that yellow and red worked pretty well but red & blue did not. It ended up looking pretty muddy.
  • We used our lava lamp over and over again.  The oil started to look a little foggy.  Not sure if it was reuse or air temperature or humidity.  Don’t know if baby oil would have had a different effect.
  • To cap or not to cap?  We left the cap off during the bubbling process.  What would happen if you capped it right away?
  • Don’t forget clean up supplies – paper towels, wipes, etc.

Light up your Lava Lamp

IMG 21571 e1413571426652 225x300 DIY Lava LampsThe kids loved the lava lamps in regular daylight but were amazed when we shone a light through the side.  One child told me later that she used it as a nightlight.

Our neighbors from the CVU Robohawks in Hinesburg, VT made us a light up base for our bottles.  They used a 3D printer to make it (took several hours) then, cut holes and put LED lights and a battery underneath.  Maker Power!!!

Your lava lamp will last forever.  Just add some alka seltzer when you’re ready to watch it in action.

Tornado Tubes – Tornadoes in a Bottle

tornadotubepinterest Tornado Tubes   Tornadoes in a BottleI’ve been talking about science toys and science experiments lately (see my posts on the Heron’s Fountain and Kaleidoscope) and wanted to share some tips on how to use the Tornado Tube.  This is about the least expensive science toy out there, it’s fun and you can use it to demonstrate a really important scientific principle.  The littlest ones will be amazed and older kids can use it as a launching pad to learn more about vortex action.  We’ve even had colleges use the Tornado Tube. It’s a great educational toy and it’s made in the USA!

What the Tornado Tube Does

tornado 300x199 Tornado Tubes   Tornadoes in a BottleYour Tornado Tube demonstrates a vortex action.  Examples of vortexes are tornadoes, whirlpools, waterspouts – really any similar fluid motion that happens when liquid or air drops through an opening. You can see it in the bathtub as the water drains, too.

How to Make the Tornado

Tedco Tornado Tube 202x300 Tornado Tubes   Tornadoes in a BottleYou’ll need:

  • 2 empty 2-liter plastic soda bottles
  • water
  • a Tornado Tube
  • food coloring (optional)
  • glitter (optional)
  • a drop or two of liquid dishwashing soap (optional)

Ready, set, go!

  • Partially fill (2/3 full) one of the 2-liter plastic soda bottles with water.
  • Add food coloring, glitter, soap or whatever you want.
  • Screw the bottles into opposite ends of the connector tube.
  • Tip the bottle so that the full bottle is on top.  Give the end of the full bottle a swirling rotational movement until you get the vortex going.

Call it a tornado if you’re a meteorologist, or a whirlpool if you’re into oceanography.

The science behind the Tornado Tube

The inventors of the Tornado Tube describe it this way:

The action is the concentration of kinetic energy (motion).   In the atmosphere, wind shear and thermals are the source of the energy which produces the vortex.  In liquids, such as water, the potential energy (mass) is converted to kinetic energy as it descends, pulled by gravity through an opening. A small initial rotation about the opening becomes more violent (higher rotational velocity) as the molecules come closer to the center. The resulting outward force tends to keep the liquid out of the exact center, maintaining a “hole” in the remaining liquid.

What vortexes in nature have you seen?

 

Photo credit: Foter / Public domain

Kaleidoscopes and Amish Quilts

What do kaleidoscopes have to do with Amish quilts?

Plenty, I just learned.  I went to the Shelburne Museum (Shelburne, VT) yesterday and saw IMG 2013 272x300 Kaleidoscopes and Amish Quiltsa great quilt exhibit, All Star Quilts: The John Wilmerding Collection that features Amish and Mennonite star-themed quilts dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The quilts featured the Star of Bethlehem design, one of the oldest and well known designs and one of the few to come from Europe to America (around 1855), according to quilting.com

Here’s the surprising part

kaleidoscope 300x300 Kaleidoscopes and Amish QuiltsThe geometric designs were influenced by the symmetrical and colorful patterns that folks saw in kaleidoscopes.  The kaleidoscope was invented in 1816 by Scottish physicist, Sir David Brewster who was interested in studying optics.

The kaleidoscope’s optical shapes are created by fragments of broken glass viewed through a rotating mirror-lined cylinder.  The kaleidoscope (which means “beautiful form to see” in Greek) had a great effect on popular taste and culture and even spawned a phenomenon know as the “Fancy” style.   “Fancy” quilt makers used cloth and thread to translate the complex designs they saw in the kaleidoscope.  Who knew?

Kaleidoscopes: Science of Optics and Fun

The kaleidoscope is the result of Sir Brewster’s scientific study of optics which also included light prisms. However, we enjoy it as a fascinating toy.  People find the patterns relaxing. Some even give it credit for healing through “color therapy.”

Use the kaleidoscope to explore patterns, color, reflection, light, mirrors and angles.  Use a light prism and try to create a rainbow!

If you and your kids are looking for optics science projects or just want to enjoy some optical fun, check out our very beautiful kaleidoscope that is wrapped in leather (7″ long, 2′ wide) and our crystal light prism (made in the USA!).  With care, both will last a very long time.  Leave them out on the table so your kids (and adults) can enjoy them any time the mood strikes.

Next time, I’ll share some experiments you can do with light prisms!

 

Kaleidoscope Photo credit: krazydad / jbum / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Heron’s Fountain – Water Science Project for Kids

fountain connection Herons Fountain   Water Science Project for KidsWhat’s a Heron’s Fountain? It dates back to ancient Greece and it’s a great water science project for kids.  Heron of Alexandria (ca 62 AD) was an inventor, mathematician and physicist who invented what looks like a magic trick.  It’s fun and an opportunity for kids to learn about gravity, air compression and vacuums.  A great end-of-summer project and, as we get ready to go back to school, a great science fair project.

How does the Heron’s Fountain work?

You know what gravity is, right?  You would think that water draining from a top bottle into a bottom bottle would just flow down and stay put.  This experiment defies that logic (which is why it seems like a magic trick.)  Essentially, a Heron’s Fountain uses compressed air to lift water to a point higher than the origin. This action is the same thing that moves water in fish tank filters and some types of coffee percolators.

How do you make a Heron’s Fountain?

Connect two bottles together with a plastic tube (with strategically placed holes) in each Tedco Fountain Connector 157x300 Herons Fountain   Water Science Project for Kidsbottle. We’ve got the Fountain Connection (made in USA!) which has done all the drilling for you.  Fill one of the bottles with water.  When you turn it over, gravity pulls the water from the upper bottle into the bottom bottle and compresses the air in the bottom bottle.  As the water leaves the upper bottle, it decreases the air pressure of that bottle and causes a partial vacuum.  Then water is forced from the lower bottle, up the fountain tube and into the upper bottle, taking the place of the draining water.  Voila!  A fountain!

What do you need?

  • 2 clean, clear plastic 2-liter bottles.  The labels and bottom plastic mount (if it’s on) should be removed so you can see better but just make sure you have a stable base.  Hint: I’ve heard that you can easily remove the labels and plastic mount with a hair dryer.
  • The Fountain Connection – this includes the clear plastic tubes that you’ll need to make the experiment work.
  • Water (or experiment with different liquids!)
  • Food coloring (optional)

(Note: you can make a fountain connector and find and cut tubing yourself.  The cap requires precise drilling to make sure you have an airtight seal and the correct holes in the tubing.)

More Heron’s Fountain science experiments

  • What happens if you add color (red erupting volcano anyone?)
  • What about blending colors?  Red in bottom, blue in top?
  • What happens if you use fluids other than water?
  • What happens if you vary the amount of fluid in the bottle?
  • What if you change the length of the tubes?  (If you do cut them down, don’t cut on the end with the holes!)
  • Try the vacuum and compression experiments illustrated on the back of the Fountain Connection package.

Tedco Tornado Tube 202x300 Herons Fountain   Water Science Project for KidsAnother fun activity is to create a swirling tornado with the Tornado Tube (also made in the USA).  It also uses 2 plastic bottles.  This is a fun, hands-on demonstration of vortex action (think, tornadoes, whirlpools, water spouts.)

 

 

 

 

 

What are your favorite experiments?

A Beginners Guide To Model Rockets

beginguiderockets 194x300 A Beginners Guide To Model RocketsEver wanted to launch model rockets but didn’t have a clue where to start? Rockets can be a fun parent-child or family activity but it can be overwhelming when you walk into Turner Toys & Hobbies and see a huge array of rockets and accessories.  Follow these easy tips so you can be a hero in your child’s eyes when you introduce them to rocketry.

Rocket “Toys”

Have kids under 10?  Start off with rocket “toys” that are propelled by baking soda and vinegar.  The  Meteor Rocket Kit or Rocket Car Kit  both by Scientific Explorer are great choices.  If you have a group of kids, go for Science Wiz’s  Bottle Rocket Party pack.  It has the basic tools but you’ll need to supply the baking soda & vinegar.  Note:  all of these rocket toys require adult supervision.

Ready For “Real” Model Rockets?

Estes Rockets are the granddaddy of rockets.  Turner Toys & Hobbies also carries FlisKit rockets.  They’re  quirky, inventive (the Nantucket Sound Lighthouse Rocket, anyone?) and are made in the USA (in New Hampshire) but they require more skill than the beginning rockets I’m listing below. 

All of these model rockets are designed for kids 10+.  Adult supervision is still recommended for kids under 12.

Rockets are graded so you know what you’re getting in to.  For beginners, look for rockets that say “RTF” or “Ready To Fly”.  These don’t require any cutting, gluing or painting.  The next level is “E2X” (Easy to Assemble). Then they are graded 1-5 depending on the complexity of assembly.

What do I need to get started?

You need:

·         Rocket with included parachute

·         Recovery Wadding

·         Engines

·         Launch pad

·         Launch Controller

·         Batteries for the controller 

The nice thing is the rocket, parachute, launch pad and controller are reusable.  All you need to replace is the wadding and the engines. 

You can buy all these items separately, but if you don’t already have a launch pad and controller, it’s cheaper to buy a set that includes the rocket, pad and controller.  In any case, you’ll still need to buy the “consumables”:  engines and recovering wadding.

Engines

You can’t launch your rocket without the right engines.  Each rocket comes with a recommended assortment of engine sizes.  The last ones on the list are the largest recommended engine size for that model.  If you are a novice you should try the engine marked “First Flight.”  This will give you a sense of how the rocket will fly and descend.   The engines are marked with letters and double in power as you go up.  For example, a “B” engine is twice as powerful as an “A.”  You will need a new engine for each flight.

How High Will it Fly And Where Will It Land?

This depends on your rocket and the size of the engine you use (see above).  RTF rockets can go anywhere from 675-1200 feet depending on the engine size.  As I mentioned above, I recommend starting with the smallest engine (marked “First Flight.”)  

Landings will depend on wind and drift.   It’s unlikely that your rocket will shoot straight up and land in the same place.  Tracking and finding your rocket is half the fun!!  I’ve got some more tips below on how to handle drift.

Best Rocket Kits for Beginners

The Riptide Model Rocket Launch Set RTF is a good choice for beginners.  All you do is add engines, recovery wadding, batteries for the launch controller and you are ready to go!  This rocket can fly up to 675 feet depending on the engine you use.  

The Rascal & Hi Jinks Launch Set RTF  includes two rockets, along with the launch pad and controller.  This way you can prepare the second rocket while the first is flying and descending.  No need to wait to recover the first rocket. These can fly up to 1200 ft with the largest recommended engine (C6-7).

The Flash Model Rocket Launch Set E2X  requires more assembly and tools.  This is great for the kid who has already flown RTF model rockets and wants to try a little more hands-on construction. You’ll need to assemble the motor mount, attach the fins, assemble the nose cone, tie on the reusable parachute, apply the decals and head out to the launch pad!  The Flash Rocket can fly up to 925 feet with largest allowable engine (C6-7) and can be used over and over again. In addition to the recovery wadding, engines and batteries, you’ll need to have glue and a hobby knife and paints on hand.

Don’t have a lot of space?  A lot of folks like the Moon Mutt Model Rocket Launch Set because it’s small and inexpensive and you can launch it in a small space.  It’ll fly up to 200 feet.  The only thing is that it uses mini engines and has a small launch pad that you can’t use with the other rocket models.  It can be assembled in less than an hour and has a plastic nose cone and fins and self-stick decals.

There are loads more RTF and E2X model rocket sets.  Once you have the launch pad and controller you can experiment with other model rockets.  Check Turner Toys & Hobbies for more models.

Flying & Weather-Related Tips

This is kind of a no-brainer but make sure that you have the space to launch a rocket – make sure that there aren’t trees or overhead wires.  Remember that the rockets will drift as they float down to earth. It might end up on a neighbor’s property. The wind will affect drift so think about launching on days without much wind. 

How quickly a rocket descends will help cut down on how far it drifts.  Each rocket comes with a parachute.  You might want to cut a circle in the parachute’s peak or slit the parachute.  This will vent the parachute so it will descends more quickly.   If it comes down too quickly, you risk damaging it on impact.  You can also angle the launch pad SLIGHTLY (just a few degrees) so it points into the wind.  This way, it will drift back to you. 

For more tips, read our earlier post about flying model rockets.  What are your best tips and model rocket stories?

Ready to Launch?

Now you know what you need to launch your first rocket: 

1)      RTF or E2X model rocket kit

2)      Make sure you have a launch pad and controller and batteries

3)      Recovery wadding

4)      Engines – look at the packaging to decide which engines your model can use. 

Remember:  Model rockets are not toys and are not recommended for kids under 10.  Kids under 12 really need adult supervision.  But why would you let your kids have all the fun?  Of course, you’ll be launching with them!

Photo credit: Foter / Public domain

Great Toys for Vacation Fun

Here in Vermont, Winter Break is about to start. Some of you will be traveling, some will be staying home. Turner Toys & Hobbies has products to make Winter Break fun and maybe even educational!

If you are traveling bring along an Eni Puzzle. Eni Puzzles are a great “fidget” puzzle toy with lots of possible solutions and great for spatial relation skills. They come in a small keychain size (which can clip onto a backpack or school bag)

enikeychain 300x300 Great Toys for Vacation Fun

Eni Keychain Puzzle

 

eni 300x300 Great Toys for Vacation Fun

Mini Eni Puzzle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and a slightly larger “Mini” size. Each is available in two different colors.

 

                                                                                                                                                                   Woodkins are also great for traveling. A modern twist on dress up dolls – Woodkins consist of a hinged wooden frame with a two dimensional image of a fairy, princess or kid on the bottom half and a matching outline on the top half. Woodkinsfairy 172x300 Great Toys for Vacation FunKids arrange the supplied fabric pieces to create outfits on the bottom half and then close the top half to see the completed outfit. They are quiet, don’t require batteries and can keep kids occupied for hours.

If you are staying home vacation can be a great time for some together time. Puzzles are a great family activity and we have a wide range from colorful jungle frogs frogs1 300x220 Great Toys for Vacation Fun

to a 3000 piece world map (circa 1665).

1665puzzle 300x223 Great Toys for Vacation Fun

Ravensburger 12557 Leaning Tower of Pisa II Great Toys for Vacation FunWe also have 3-D puzzles of famous landmarks including The Empire State Building, Big Ben and The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

 

Learning doesn’t have to stop just because its vacation time. We have science kits from Science Wiz that cover Chemistry, Electricity, Energy, Inventions, Light and Physics. Each kit includes materials, a book with experiments and background information plus access to more experiments and lessons on the web. These kits have been favorites with our customers.

sciencewizphysics 243x300 Great Toys for Vacation Fun

 What toys have you found entertaining, educational (or both!) during past vacations?

 

 

Pinewood Derby Time! Some Quick Tips for Building Pinewood Derby Cars

South Park Pinewood Derby 300x231 Pinewood Derby Time! Some Quick Tips for Building Pinewood Derby Cars

We’ve added Pinewood Derby blocks, car kits, wheels, weights, stickers and tools to the store and the season is getting underway across the country. My son was a Cub Scout several years ago and we built and raced Pinewood Derby with pretty mixed results!

Here are a few ideas that I learned from building a Pinewood Derby Car with my son.  These tips might make it easier, more fun and more likely to build a competitive Pinewood Derby car.

There are a number of options when starting to make a Pinecar Racer. Some scout troops give out wooden blocks – its the traditional way but requires major shaping before it starts to look like a car.

 

Basic Block 300x195 Pinewood Derby Time! Some Quick Tips for Building Pinewood Derby Cars

Given kids’ short attention spans and the waiting associated with a whole pack getting their blocks shaped I’d recommend starting with one of the pre-shaped car kits like Pinecar Racer Wedge Kit. This way kids can get to the parts of the building process that are more hands on like tuning and tweaking for best performance.

The key to Pinecar performance involves the wheels and axles. The rules are pretty strict about replacing wheels and axles so the best course is to make the most out of what is supplied with the car kit. Two areas that you  should focus on are reducing friction caused by the axles and making sure the wheels are aligned properly.

Polished Axles 300x225 Pinewood Derby Time! Some Quick Tips for Building Pinewood Derby Cars A great start to reducing axle friction is using the Axles & Polishing Kit along with a power drill to remove any burrs on the axle and then polish them to be as smooth as possible. Once the axles are polished they can be lubricated (sparingly) with a graphite based dry lubricant like Hob-E-Lube and the wheels can be mounted.Alignment Tool 300x177 Pinewood Derby Time! Some Quick Tips for Building Pinewood Derby Cars

If you want your Pinecar Racer to be competitive you have to make sure the wheels are aligned and are all parallel to the track – if they aren’t the wheels will be “scuffing” on the track and your car won’t go as fast as it could. You can do quite a lot by eye but to make sure everything is correct use a Wheel Alignment Tool. This tool is inexpensive (can be shared within a pack as well!) and can verify that axle grooves are aligned, clearance between body and wheels are correct, camber is correct and toe in/out are correct. It also measures ground clearance, overall length and width and width between wheels.

Weights are an important contributor to high performance and range from the simple (Adjustable Stick-On Weights) to the complex (Tungsten C of G Weights that can be adjusted fore and aft to shift the car’s center of gravity). PW Adding Weight 300x224 Pinewood Derby Time! Some Quick Tips for Building Pinewood Derby CarsPlacement of weights is determined by the style of the car but most cars can use Round Weights that fit neatly into a 3/8″ hole that’s been drilled horizontally along the central axis of the car. If you have a small car and limited places to attach weights take a look at the weights that contain Tungsten. weightComparison 234x300 Pinewood Derby Time! Some Quick Tips for Building Pinewood Derby Cars

Tungsten has 3 times the density of conventional weights and can be a real problem solver. They come in five different styles including Tungsten Putty which can be added at the last minute if your car is underweight.

Decal Paper 300x242 Pinewood Derby Time! Some Quick Tips for Building Pinewood Derby CarsWhen it comes time to decorate your car we have the standard decal and dry transfer sets but also have decal paper so you can make your own decals using a laser or ink jet printer. Another option is Bare Metal Foil which is super thin metal foil used by scale modelers to model chrome, aluminum, copper or gold surfaces. Shiny!

 

Be careful and wear appropriate eye and hearing protection if you are using any power tools in the building process. Remember to have fun out there!

Pinewood Design Cartoon 300x182 Pinewood Derby Time! Some Quick Tips for Building Pinewood Derby Cars

What are your tips for a winning car?

20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age!

Looking for fun, affordable stocking stuffers for kids? Here are 20 of my favorites – all under $10 each.  I’ve noticed that several of the toys on this stocking stuffer list are classic toys. Even if you didn’t play with them when you were a kid, you can enjoy playing with them with your children or grandchildren.

stockingstuffer 214x300 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age!Stocking Stuffers for Toddlers

Here are some fun, affordable stocking stuffers for younger kids.  Some they can play with on their own; others might need a little parental help.

trainwhistle 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age!Wooden Train Whistle – Choo Choo!  This train whistle has 4-tones and sounds like the real thing. Made from unfinished pine and high quality birch plywood. Measures 8-1/4″ long by 1-1/2″ square. Decorated with chart showing what 11 different whistle sounds mean (long, long, short, long is the sound for train approaching a crossing.) Made in Vermont USA. Ages 5+  $5.99

ryansroomshoelacing 300x283 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age!One-Two Tie Your Shoe Lacing Toy – This lacing toy helps children practice lacing and tying their shoes. Builds hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Wooden shoe measures 4″ long and includes lace. (Shoe colors may vary from image.) From Ryan’s Room. Ages 3+  $4.99

madebymetruck 300x214 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age!Made By Me – A great first woodworking assembly project!  Kids can assemble their own Truck, Train, or VW Bug and then color, paint or decorate them.  The individual sets come with smooth-sanded unfinished pine pieces and wooden wheels and axles.  All you need is some glue, a hammer, paints, crayons, stickers or whatever else you might want to use for decoration. A great Grandparent & Me activity! Made By Me’s have received Dr. Toy’s 100 Best Children’s Products Award and Dr. Toy’s 10 Best Creative Toys Awards. Made in the USA. Ages 3+ $3.99

old fahioned top 2 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age!Old Fashioned Spinning Top  A table-top wooden toy spinning top with spinning bracket and string. A safe indoor toy that even a 3-year-old can operate with help from Mom or Dad. Ages 3+ $8.99

Engineer’s Cap - Our son wouldn’t take off his engineer’s cap when he was little.  Every boy & girl needs one to run their railroad!  100% cotton. Available in Adult or Children’s size. Blue/white stripes or pink/white stripes.  $9.99

Stocking Stuffers for Ages 5-7

Lots of these classic toys will also be enjoyed by kids older that 7 years.

Marbles – our cool marbles come in a “vintage” metal box and are even made in the USA!  48 marbles & 2 shooter marbles plus a handbook to learn about different marble games. Made in USA $9.99

Dominos – Another classic game.  Dominos can be used in many ways (math games or racing dominos, for example.) Take it to the next level and learn how to play block, draw, Maltese cross, Sebastopol, Bergen, Montana and Texas 42. Comes in a “vintage” metal box and includes a full set of 28 double six dominos and a twenty page handbook covering history, technique and game rules. Made in USA. $9.99

Jacob’s Ladder – I never had one of these growing up and didn’t “get” it until I read the instructions.  So much fun!  This can be played by younger kids, but even 8 & 9 year-olds love watching the wooden pieces cascade as if by magic.  You can also do magic tricks with the Jacob’s Ladder. I have seen cheap Jacob’s Ladders but this is the real deal with quality wooden pieces.  Made in the USA. $8.99

Jacks – This traditional jacks set comes with 5 gold and 5 silver jacks a ball and a cloth storage bag.  Also comes with rules but you can make up your own, too.  $4.99

Whirly Toy – Did you have one when you were a kid?  This one has lights inside the wheel so the fun can continue after dark. It’s quite hypnotic and I – and other adults – have spent lots of time playing with these! Wheel is magnetic and tracks along the metal rod while spinning (and lighting up).  I’ve seen lots of cheap imitations but this is a sturdy, well-made toy.  Comes with battery. Ages 5+ $9.99

Slinky Collector’s Edition – Who hasn’t had a Slinky? The Slinky is still made in Pennsylvania with the original equipment that Richard James created. The Slinky has changed little in over 50 years and is loads of fun.  Great for coordination development, learning about gravity, balance and more. Made in the USA. Ages 5+ $7.99

crystalprism 300x300 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age!Light Crystal Prism – A great science toy that’s fun to look at! Natural sunlight is refracted through the prism into the full spectrum of colors – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.  Made of polished glass; must be handled with care. Made in USA. Ages 6+ $8.99

enikeychain 300x300 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age!

Eni Puzzle - A great “fidget” puzzle toy with lots of possible solutions and great for spatial relation skills.  The “Keychain” size comes in two colors schemes: pastels and hot/bold colors.   Ages 5+  Keychain is $6.99

Pommawonga Ring Toss Toy 

pommawongacrop1 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age!

Toss the tethered wooden rings in the air and see how many you can catch on the wooden stick. Once you’ve caught all the rings see if you can catch the square – but don’t lose the rings in the process. This is a great way for kids to develop their hand to eye coordination.  From Ryan’s Room. Ages 6+  $8.99

ST Side Winder MOD 300x225 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age! Sidewinder Top
This is a great top for beginners!  It’s easier to throw than the wooden top because it comes with a Power Spinner cord that makes it fool proof to spin.  The Sidewinder is a fixed nylon point Spin Top.  Measures 2″ diam x 3.25″ long. Includes fixed plastic point and Power-Spinner for easy launches. Made in USA. Top colors may vary.

flyingstick 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age!

 Wooden Flying Sticks –  This Flying Stick is an aerodynamically sophisticated version of the old folk-toy stick helicopter. The pitch of the 7 inch rotor can be be changed by wetting and bending. It takes a little practice to get a good flight. Insider Tip: Wait until wood is dry before flying, or it will be too heavy.  Ages 7+  Sold in 16 packs only. A 16-pack is $16.99 but I included it on my list because each flying stick comes out to just over $1.

Stocking Stuffers for Ages 8+

Kids 8 and older will enjoy any of the toys on the ages 5-7 list, but here are a few that might need a little more physical & mental dexterity.

somacube 300x300 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age!

Soma Cube Puzzle – This is a classic three dimensional puzzle consisting of seven unique shapes which can only be assembled into a cube one way. Cube measures 2-1/8″ and is made of maple hardwood finished with a clear urethane finish. Made in USA. Ages 8+ $9.99.

 

 

Q-Bitz – This is a fun brainteaser puzzle. We left it out on our kitchen table and our 12- & 13-year olds played with it. The goal is to duplicate the pattern on the puzzle card with the 16 wooden cubes. Q-bitz Solo can be played alone or used to add a player in a Q-bitz game. Three different ways to play including recreating the pattern from memory! Add a timer to see who can complete each puzzle the fastest. Includes wooden tray, 16 wooden cubes, 20 puzzle cards, instructions and is packed in a small tin box for easy storage. Ages 8+  $9.99.

brain 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age! Yomega “Brain” Yo-Yo –  This is the yo-yo that revolutionized yo-yo play. When you throw it down, it sleeps and then remembers to come back up.  Patented centrigual clutch allows super-fast free spin, followed by automatic return.  Ideal for beginners. Includes 5 extra strings.  Colors vary. Ages 7 to adult. $9.99

woodentop 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids. All under $10 and Sorted by Age!

 Wooden Throwing Top – This is a classic, natural wooden throwing top with a safe replaceable fixed plastic point.  Includes 60″ string and wooden “button”.  It’s a bit more challenging to throw that the Sidewinder above but is a really satisfying spin once you master it. Made in USA.  $7.99. Save 10% when you buy 3 or more.

Visit Turner Toys & Hobbies to see other affordable toys!  Have a Merry Christmas!

 

 

Creative Gifts for Tween Girls

artterrowoolfeltjewelry2 270x300 Creative Gifts for Tween GirlsI find that buying gifts for tween girls is one of the most difficult things to do.  Their interests may vary widely but one thing all tweens have in common is the desire to express themselves!

Here are some of our favorite creative gifts that your artsy tween will love.  These kits are rated for ages 7 or 8+ but I know that kids even older than 12 enjoy these projects. Many of these projects require cutting, sewing, gluing or working with fine art wires, beads and marbles.  Project ideas are given but these are open-ended activities that will let tweens explore their creativity.

Decoupage Tote

 

 

Kids can create a tote bag that is decorated with decoupage pictures or artwork of favorite people, pets, activities, or more.  A fun project that lets kids create something that is truly personal.  Even my 13-year old loved it!   Kit includes tote, stencil, accent ribbons, brush, decoupage glue, two sided pattern circles and a design planning mat. Ages 8 + $24.99

artterobookmake 270x300 Creative Gifts for Tween Girls

Arttero Eco-Art Kits

We love Arttero Kits!  They’ve done all the legwork of collecting beautiful, quality materials for your arts and crafts projects.  No trips to multiple stores only to sort through cheap plastic beads or fabrics that will bleed. No cheesy-plastic kits that you see everywhere.  These are truly unique.

Arttero materials are sourced from around the world: handmade recycled paper from India and Thailand, wool felt from Nepal, wires, needles and glass marbles are made in USA.  Arttero also has a strong social and environmental mission:  the cardboard packaging is made from 100% post-consumer waste paper and the inks are vegetable based inks. The kits are assembled by Goodwill Industries in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Even the kit boxes turn into a frame for finished artwork!

Arttero Art Journal Kit

artterroartjournal 270x300 Creative Gifts for Tween GirlsThis isn’t just a lovely spiral-bound book of blank pages.  Arttero has teamed up with Strathmore Artist Papers to create a unique book with beautiful art paper and inspiration to begin your journalling. The kit includes a spiral-bound (6.5 x 8) journal with a solid book board cover to personalize, 14 inspiring project pages, 5 pages of beautiful handmade decorative papers, 6 solid colored papers, artist-quality drawing paper, and pocket folder to store pictures, scraps and found images.  Great for drawing, doodling, collaging and whatever you can think of!  Great for all ages. Made in the USA.  $12.95.  You provide: Pens, pencils, markers, scissors and glue

artterrodoll 270x300 Creative Gifts for Tween GirlsArttero Art Doll Eco-Kit

Make bookmarks, decorations or add these dolls to your scrapbook or art journal!  Requires cutting, sewing and gluing.  Ages 7+ $19.95

Kit Includes: 100% recycled, gorgeous handmade papers, 100% wool felt dresses, glass beads, wooden beads, sequins, craft thread, needles and ideas sheet. You provide: scissors and glue. 

Bookmaking Eco-Art Kit   Arterro Bookmaking Kit 270x300 Creative Gifts for Tween Girls

Sew together gorgeous handmade paper and decorate with beads and thread to make four small books. Use as journals, portfolios, scrapbooks, or write and illustrate an original story! Use leftover paper for fancy custom greeting cards. Ages 8 + $19.95 Made in the USA.

Kit Includes: Solid colored and decorative handmade papers (100% PCW), small wood and seed beads, sequins, craft thread, needles, instructions and ideas sheet. You provide: Scissors and glue.

Arterro Creativity Kit 3 270x300 Creative Gifts for Tween GirlsCreativity Eco-Art Kit

Arttero has gathered handmade papers, wool felt shapes and glass and wooden beads and more for your tween to create with. Cut, glue and sew greeting cards, bookmarks, ornaments, gift tags, small sculptures and collages. With enough materials for 7 projects, this eco-art kit provides hours of fun with friends & family.  What a great party activity! Ages 7+ $19.95

Kit Includes: 100% recycled beautiful handmade paper, natural 100% wool felt shapes, glass beads, wooden beads, sequins, craft thread, copper wire, needles and ideas sheet. You provide: Scissors and glue.

Wire & Bead Eco-Art Kit     Arterro Wirebead Kit 270x300 Creative Gifts for Tween Girls

Honestly, this might be my favorite Arttero kit.  Shape colorful wire and beads into small creatures, a large mobile adorned with beads, jewelry, a beautiful crown, or anything you can think of.  The kit includes enough materials for up to 20 projects – what a great party activity or family art project!  Ages 7+ $19.95

Kit includes: Artist-quality colorful copper wire in 3 gauges, glass beads, wooden beads and rings, shell beads, glass marbles and ideas sheet. You provide: Pliers or tweezers, nail clippers.

Wool Felt Wearables Eco-Art Kit

artterrowoolfeltjewelry3 270x300 Creative Gifts for Tween GirlsDesign a fashionable necklace, bracelet, earrings, pin, or barrette all with this one great kit! Wool felt is really popular right not and it’s fun to work with and easy to use, only simple sewing required. Ages 7+  $19.95

Kit Includes: Natural 100% wool felt shapes, glass beads, wooden beads, sequins, craft thread, jewelry findings, needles and ideas sheet.  You provide: Scissors and glue.

Paint Marker Set    paintmarkers 300x300 Creative Gifts for Tween Girls

Our friends at Mindware have developed a fun 6-piece Paint Marker Set that’s great for creating posters, craft projects and more.  These would be great for your art journal! The markers let you quickly cover large areas and the heavy-duty fleece applicators apply the paint evenly and stand up to repeated use. Just press down to paint – eliminates potential for spills – great for use with groups of kids. Washable, non toxic and acid free paint colors include red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. $12.99 For ages 5 +

I’m pretty sure that you’re tween will love any of these kits and possibly several of them!  Maybe they’ll even let you join them!