Kids + Toys (Educational + Fun) = Future Innovators

Monthly Archives: July 2013

diy giant alphabet blockLast weekend Turner Toys attended Essex Junction’s Annual Block Party – a great community tradition in our hometown.  In addition to putting out many of our fabulous educational and wooden toys, we made giant alphabet blocks for the kids to play with.  We used color in lieu of alphabet letters but I’m calling them alphabet blocks because they were cube-shaped like classic alphabet blocks.  Each side had a different color so they could be lined up like part of a Rubik’s cube or a preschool block puzzle.  They were a hit and it was great fun to see how kids played with them.  It was especially fun to see that they appealed to kids of different ages.

Some kids:

  • Stacked them
  • Knocked them down
  • Played tag
  • Solved the puzzle
  • Danced around with them

Giant Alphabet Block Tutorial

Here’s a tutorial on how my friend, Sue, and I made the blocks:

Figuring out what we wanted (size, materials, look)

  1. Theme – I wanted a color puzzle where the blocks could be arranged into a wall of color.  Harder than it sounds.DIY giant alphabet blocks
  2. Block size & material:  You can buy oversized wooden blocks but we settled on using 9 x 9″ cardboard boxes for our cubes. They were inexpensive and lightweight.  We nixed the 12″ because they might have been too big for toddlers to handle and bigger kids might have sat on them and crushed them.  We went with cardboard because it’s light and durable compared with styrofoam or other materials that might have chipped or crumbled with use.  This was important because we were using them on an asphalt surface rain or shine!
  3. Choose and test your materials!   Sue experimented with gluing felt and different textured and smooth papers onto cardboard.  The modge podge glue bled through the felt and anything “cloth-like”.   In all cases, the modge podge darkened the color.  We went with a light card stock and applied the glue underneath and also over to see the effects.  It darkened the paper color and gave it a striated texture that was a little tacky & sticky.   If you don’t like the tackiness you could always try a clear varnish coat.

These are the materials we used:  DIY giant alphabet blocks

  • 6 cardboard 9×9″ boxes
  • modge podge
  • brush to apply modge podge
  • packing tape to seal the boxes
  • newspaper or other filling for the box
  • paper cutter
  • Fiskars corner rounder
  • water bottle sprayer


  1. Draw out your plan for each box & the overall theme.  I wanted to make sure that the colors lined up exactly on each box so I made a small diagram. Nothing fancy.
  2. For the colored area on each block side: Sue made a paper template.  Again, we played with the size because we discovered that our 9×9″ box was 9.5 x 9.5″!   Important to do your measuring!  We went with an 8×8″ template because we wanted to see the edges of the “cube”.
  3. We used a corner rounder on each sheet thinking that a) it would look nice (which it did) and b) it would prevent the edges fraying (which we think it did).  Your choice.
  4. Using the template, cut out 6 pieces of paper or whatever material you are using.    Remember to figure out how many of each color or pattern you need if you’re trying to arrange them in a theme.  For example, I needed 6 sheets of 6 different colors to make my set.

 Steps to making the alphabet blocks.

  1. Construct the box using clear plastic tape (you could use colorful tape or duct tape if you wanted).  Before taping up the final side, I added some crumpled newspaper. Sue thought this would give it some heft.  You can experiment.
  2. You can either paint the adhesive directly to the box or the back of the paper.  I modge podged the entire block face because I wanted to give the corners some extra strength.  Then I placed the paper where I wanted it.
  3. When we noticed that the paper was wrinkling we lightly sprayed the back of the paper with water before applying it to the box.  It seemed to help.
  4. I added a top coat to the entire block face.
  5. It took 20-30 minutes to dry.

diy giant alphabet blocksThere are so many things you can do with these blocks.  Here are just a few ideas:

  • Textures – Kids love tactile toys! Think about sand paper, felt, textured or smooth wall paper, fabrics, etc.
  • Colors or Patterns– Primary, cool, hot colors and/or patterns?  Stripes, dots, stars…..?
  • Theme –  Do you want to supplement the inherent open play of blocks with an overall theme? Think of a block puzzle where each face makes an an overall image, or color or pattern.
  • Quantity of Blocks – The possibilities are endless. Most block puzzles are 3 x 3 (9 blocks).  I ended up with a 3 x 2 (6 blocks) mostly because I ran out of time.  I was going to stop at 4 blocks but thought that the extra 2 blocks would exponentially increase the fun!
  • Complexity– I’d thought about drawing simple line images like apples across all 6 blocks.  Then, the blocks would have to be arranged to complete the image.  Or, you could make it a sorting game – all animals on one side, all fruit on another. 

What other toys have you made?






Are we there yet?  great travel toys for kids

Here are some great travel toys for kids that will prevent your kids from ever saying  those 4 dreaded words! 

What to look for?  

Great travel toys for kids are:

Self-Contained & Easily Transportable

The toy comes with it’s own sturdy packaging making it easy to take from car to restaurant to hotel.  And if parts can be stored in it’s packaging, they are less likely to get lost underneath car or plane seats.  They are also small enough to fit on laps or restaurant tables.

Fascinating and Engaging  Turner Toys

Your child will want to spend time – hours, even – creating and playing.  And they will want to play with the toy throughout the trip, not just once.


Who wants noisy toys or toys with batteries that die and need to be replaced at inopportune times?

Independent Activities

Some of the best toys can be played solo allowing your child to quietly and fully sink into the activity without your guidance.  This is especially great in public situations like planes and restaurants or when you need to focus on driving.

Here are some of our favorite travel toys for children of different ages:

imaginets great travel toy for kidsImaginets

Imaginets are colorful wooden magnetic blocks that come in a wooden travel case.  The blocks can be arranged on the magnetic board surface using the 50 designs supplied or however your child wishes. The magnetic board surface also can be used as a dry erase board sobackgrounds can be drawn to showcase the creative patterns and shapes.When play is over just close up the case and store the blocks inside. Includes wooden traveling case, 42 magnetic wooden blocks and 25 double-sided pattern cards. Best for children over 3.

Woodkins Dress-Up Dolls  Woodkins dress up doll

Woodkins dress-up dolls are a great tactile toy and a sturdy alternative to paper dolls.  Their unique “sandwich” design lets children create endless varieties of outfits with the included fabrics. Just lift the frame, place the fabrics, close the frame and see what your Woodkins doll is wearing!  Woodkins come in a variety of personalities – from the Pals (Kimmy, Emily and others) to Fairies and story book characters.   They come in a vinyl plastic tote with handle.

I can tell you for a fact that Woodkins will provide hours of quiet fun for children 3-8 years. I’ve even seen 11-year olds and adults spend quality time playing with them!  All styles come with fabric swatches. Woodkins have won lots of parent awards!

Flip & Draw Books animal flip & draw great travel toy for kids

Mudpuppy has come up with Flip & Draw books that let kids create new and exciting creatures.   In the Farm Animal book, your child might create a sheep-pig!  Other flip & draw books include Monsters, Jungle Animals, Dress-up, Robots and “When I Grow Up” themes.

Each Flip & Draw book includes 15 wirebound sheets (10 mix & match characters to color and 5 blank sheets for original drawings) cut into three strips. Wirebound book measures 8 x 5-3/4″ and is printed with nontoxic, soy-based inks. Ages 4 and up.

Flipbook Kits

Create your own animation with flipbook kits from Fliptomania.  Each kit comes with materials for 2 flipbooks of pre-drawn images of 2 different themes and blank pages to make your own.  Great for one or two children!  We carry:

Here’s a video to show you how it’s done.

Color in the images, separate the perforated pages, stack them in the correct order, clip the pages together with the attached clips and presto, movies that come to life.  Detailed instructions show you how to draw the individual pages that will make a fun movie once complete. Includes 6 coloring markers in a vinyl case, 4 plastic clips and enough extra blank sheets to make 2 flipbooks of your own when you’ve mastered the lost art of flipbook making!  Everything can be kept in the cardboard box for easy transport. This is a great activity for older children (7+) since the pages need to be perforated and stacked.  Younger children will have fun, too, with some parent help.


What do you look for in a great travel toy?


Photo credit: limaoscarjuliet / Foter / CC BY


toys made in USABe patriotic this 4th of July and play with toys that are made in the USA!

What do toys have to do with the 4th of July? Being patriotic means many things to many people.  I didn’t want to tie Turner Toys & Hobbies to the 4th of July celebration – it smacks of consumerism.  But then I read Independent We Stand’s post about the importance of supporting small & local businesses.

Small businesses are the backbone of the US economy and play a large role in our communities.  Don’t we want to support our neighbors?  What’s more American than that?

Let’s support our USA toymakers. I’ve written about all the wonderful toys that are still made in the USA.

Toy made in the USA Roy Toy Log Cabin Toy Set

Roy Toy Log Cabin set made in USA

Toys  such as:

Please check out our Made in USA toy page for more toys.

So, in honor of Independence Day, please consider supporting local businesses and our USA toymakers.  Go to your local farmer’s market, enjoy a burger at your local cafe and an ice cream at a local scoop shop.  You can be sure that we’ll be playing with some of our toys that have been made in the USA!

Enjoy the 4th with your family and your community.  We’ll be at our village’s July 4th celebration and enjoying the fireworks.

What made in the USA toys does your family play with?

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