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Category Archives: Homeschool Toys

very best toys for tweens and teensEveryone talks about the “hot” toys of the year.  Turner Toys & Hobbies doesn’t believe in fleeting fads.  That’s why we’ve put together our “Very Best Toy” gift guides.  These are the toys we consider to be the most engaging and creative thinking toys out there.  These have staying power and will surely get your kids off screens!  Here is our 2014 list of the Best Toys for Tweens and Teens.

1.   Remote-Control Machines (Ages 8-15)

This construction kit from Thames & Kosmos lets you build your own electric vehicles and machines and control them with a wireless remote control unit.  How cool is that?  The kit comes with designs for 10 different models such as a bulldozer, an antique car and a robotic arm.  After you make those, then the sky’s the limit.  A unique 6-button infrared remote allows you to control three different motors simultaneously, moving each of them forward or in reverse. 182 pieces, 10 models and a 48-page manual.

2.   Roominate  (Girls Ages 6-12 – boys can play with it, too!)

A dollhouse for kids to design, build and electrify!  Roominate has come up with a great way to introduce STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) to girls.  With Roominate, every girl is an engineer.  Girls build their own structure (a house on wheels?), design their own beds, staircases and more.  Then, they make their creations come alive with a working windmill, elevator, or merry-go-round! Roominate is available in both a basic and a deluxe size kit, a studio building set, an architect’s expander pack and a Roominate circuits accessory pack.  Roominate was invented by female engineers from Cal Tech, MIT & Stanford and has won numerous of awards.  The girl in your life will love it!

3.  Candy Chemistry Kit (Ages 10-15)

What a delicious way to learn about science!   This is not a toy which is why older kids will love it. Kids explore chemistry as they cook up candies and chocolates in the kitchen. They’ll learn about important physical science principles related to candy and cooking.  With 25 sweet experiments to perform, kids can discover why sugar crystallizes to make rock candy or investigate the chemistry of gummy bears, to name just two.  Kids can make gummy candies, chocolate shapes, and hard sugar candy using the special tools included.  No hazardous chemicals or food items; you supply the safe ingredients from your kitchen. Comes with a 48-page manual.

4.  Syclone  (Ages 8-adult)

Like spinning tops?  Like mazes?  How about combining the two? The Syclone is a dexterity puzzle for kids, teens and adults alike. The precision-engineered top spins for over a minute.  Once it’s spinning then you can navigate the ramps, jumps and sinkholes of the two 3D mazes before the top stops.  The Scyclone was named 2014 Toy of the Year by Creative Child Magazine.

5.  Ball of Whacks (Ages 14-adult)

One of our most fascinating and addictive toys!  The Ball of Whacks is a clever and versatile puzzle invented by creativity expert Roger von Oech. It is made up of 30 magnetic pyramids that can be taken apart and rearranged in endless ways to form amazing creations: stars, polygons, creatures such as flying squirrels and turtles and more!  But you don’t have to make anything – just pull the pieces apart and watch them snap back.   It’s available in red or 6-colors.  The maker recommends this for ages 14+ because it contains rare earth magnets.

 6.  Artterro Creativity Kit   (Ages 7 – Adult)
This kit is a beautiful collection of hard-to-find handmade papers, wool felt shapes and glass and wooden beads and more for you to create with.  The kit gives suggestions of what you can make (greeting cards, bookmarks, ornaments, gift tags, small sculptures and collages), but you can make anything that inspires you!  The materials have been sourced from India, Thailand, Nepal and the US.
7.  Q-Ba-Maze  (Ages 6-14)

Q-Ba-Maze Q-Ba-Maze is a 3D maze that is also a ball run.  Colorful plastic cubes interlock to form a marble run.  Arrange the cubes in an animal, geometric or any other design you can imagine.  Marbles travel through the maze following a different course each time – the configurations of the cubes are almost unlimited!

The colored cubes add a different visual dimension that wood doesn’t have.  A great way to teach kids about probability, gravity, symmetry, physics and art.  Q-Ba-Maze also has add-on stunts: the Bounce Stunt Set  and the Zoom Stunt Set

Let us know if you have other gift ideas for your tweens and teens.

 

 

 


 

 


10 best toys for babies & 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 lampsWe just participated in the Champlain Mini Maker Faire at Shelburne Farms in Vermont.  IMG_2147[1]Are 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.

diy lava lampSupplies 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.

diy lava lamp

 

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_2157[1]The 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 TubeI’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 and tornado tubeYour 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

tornado tubeYou’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


Fountain Connection Heron's FountainWhat’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 Connection Heron's Fountainbottle. 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 ScienceAnother 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?


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.

affordable stocking stuffers for kidsStocking 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.

wooden train whistle made in USAWooden 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

Ryan's room shoe lace manipulative toy for preschoolersOne-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

Maple Landmark Made By Me Truck preschool toyMade 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 fashioned spinning top preschool toyOld 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

Made in USA Light Crystal PrismLight 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

Eni Keychain Puzzle

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 

Pommawonga Ring Toss Toy

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

Sidewinder spinning top 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.

Flying Stick Toy

 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.

Maple Landmark Soma Cube Puzzle

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.

Yomega Brain yo-yo 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

Wooden Throwing Top

 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!

 

 


Wearable Wool Felt JewelryI 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

Artterro bookmaking kit

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

Artterro art journal kitThis 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

Artterro Doll KitArttero 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   Artterro bookmaking kit

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.

Artterro Creativity Art KitCreativity 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

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

artterro wool felt jewelry kitDesign 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    Paint Marker Art Supplies

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!


Wooden train sets are a great way to celebrate Christmas with your child and to create an annual tradition.   I remember when we got our first wooden trains and track for our son.  It was the first taste of what was to become many years of fun in our house. Over the years we added more track and more train cars.

Santa Train package

Why wooden train sets for kids? 

In addition to being fun and inspiring a life-long love of trains (my husband is a big rail fan!), playing with wooden trains is an open-ended, imaginative form of play that helps children develop:

  • hand-eye coordination
  • problem solving skills
  • verbal skills
  • fine motor skills
  • independent play and collaborative play skills

To help you introduce the joy of wooden trains to your child this Christmas, we’ve put together a great Wooden Toy Train package that is specially priced for the holidays at $59.99.  This saves you 20% off list if items were purchased separately.  Our trains, track and whistle are made in Vermont out of sustainably grown wood so you can be sure that your child is playing with a quality, well-made and safe toy.

The Santa Train Package includes:

The Santa Train Set

Wooden Trains for KidsThe Santa Train Set includes four cars and features Santa as the engineer on his own magical train.   Mrs. Claus is baking goodies in the bakery car and there is a caboose full of Elves make last-minute toys in their mobile workshop. The Reindeer get a day off, riding in their own railroad car.  The set of 4 cars is wrapped on a piece of straight track. Made in Vermont USA by Maple Landmark. $24.99

Add the Santa Train to your collection of other train cars – these are compatible with most other wooden trains including Brio and Thomas The Tank Engine.

Oval Wooden Track Set

Wooden train track oval

This track set measures 17” x 33” when built. Set includes 8 curved sections and 4 8” straight sections. Made in Vermont, USA by Maple Landmark. Lists at $34.99.  Our regular price is $29.99.

You can’t have too much track!  These track pieces are compatible with Thomas, Brio and other wooden track systems.

Wooden Train Whistle

wooden train whistle made in USAThis 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 by Maple Landmark  Ages 5 & up.  $5.99

Engineers cap

 

 

This is a traditional engineer’s cap – great for working on the railroad.  Our son wore his round the clock! 100% cotton. Available in Adult or Children’s size. Choose from the traditional blue stripe or the pink stripe cap.  Caps have an adjustable strap to fit a range of head sizes. Imported. $9.99

Why not start (or continue) a family tradition of playing with wooden trains!

 


This Christmas, before you buy toys, consider this:  What makes a good kid’s toy?  In a nutshell, one that your children will want to play with over and over again and that you can feel good about.  How to tell if it’s a good toy?  We’ve rounded up the best advice out there!

what makes a good kids toy

Quality

Uncle Goose Blocks & Wagon

Uncle Goose Blocks & Wagon

Great craftsmanship means the toys will last forever.  Think about the wooden trains or blocks that you had as a kid. You might even still have them!  Even years after you purchased them, parts will still fit together nicely and won’t warp.  If they are quality toys, they won’t break and won’t harm your child.  Perhaps not coincidentally, some of the best and safest toys out there are made in the USA or Europe, are made from environmentally friendly materials and are classic toys – no batteries or cheap plastic parts that will break.

What are some quality toy brands?  We like Haba, Uncle Goose, Maple Landmark, Mindware, Artterro, Guidecraft, Citiblocs, BeginAgain, Roy Toy, among others.

Safety

Is the toy safe?  Is it age appropriate?  If you need help figuring out what toy is appropriate by age, check out this toy guide from NAEYC.  Keep little ones away from small parts. Make sure that your toys are lead-free.  Toys that were made years ago may have been manufactured with lead paint. You can get a lead paint test kit just to be sure.

You won’t have any problems with natural wooden toys like these from Haba.  Any fabric toys need to be labeled as flame-resistant or flame-retardant. Art materials should be non-toxic. Look for water-based stains and dyes.  Sign up to receive product recalls with the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

What are they made of?

  • Plastic is easy to clean, but it can break.
  • Wood lasts forever and can be wiped down.
  • Wooden toys are aesthetically pleasing to many senses:  visual and tactile (sometimes they even smell good like Roy Toy’s log cabin pine building sets!).
  • Batteries die – usually when you most need them!  Plus, battery-powered toys aren’t recommended for kids younger than 8 years.
  • Are the materials environmentally or socially-responsible?
  • Where are the toys made? Look for wooden toys made from sustainably-grown trees.

Simplicity

The best toys are simple, classic and nurture open-ended play.   Some of these you can buy; others are lying around the house or outside.  Think: wooden blocks, boxes, twigs, clothes or fabric to play dress-up, art materials.  You can get wooden unit blocks from Guidecraft or plank blocks from CitiblocsWooden train sets are always great. Kids of all ages can play with these.

Fun Factor & Play Value

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff.

  • Does the toy promote creative thinking, skill development, or a new concept?
  • Can you play with the toy in different ways?
  • Is the toy developmentally appropriate for your child?
  • Will your child want to play with it over and over again?
  • Is it easy for kids to figure out and/or are there clear directions on the packaging so you can help them, if needed?

Parent’s Choice Foundation also has a nice list of things to look for in a good toy.

We’re biased at Turner Toys & Hobbies because we specialize in great toys that your children will love to play with over and over again.  Toys that are high quality, safe, well-made, basic, educational and fun!

What do you think makes a good toy?

 


10_15boygiftSomeone just asked me about good gifts for 10-15 year old boys.   I thought it might be helpful to think about it in terms of their personalities. 

Here are three types of boys I know:

Creator  (C)

  • Likes finding solutions for different kinds of “problems.” A Rube Goldberg type.  Learns, experiments, builds.  Might like blocks, mazes, marble runs or planes and rockets that they can design or tweak for different performance effects.

Sprinter (S)

  • Doesn’t necessarily want to devote a lot of time to an activity – maybe 10 minutes here and there.  Short bursts of concentration but likes to practice things over and over to master a skill.  Might like brainteasers, yo-yos, tops or ready-to-fly rockets and planes.

Tinkerer (T)

  • Likes to use his hands to build things, tweaks them to improve performance.  Can spend lots of time (hours, days) on a project.  Might like advanced rocket and balsa airplane kits that require precision cutting, glueing and painting.  Might like 3D puzzles or puzzles that require a lot of patience.

Here are 6 types of gifts for 10-15 year old boys who are Creators, Sprinters & Tinkerers

1.  Brainteaser Puzzles  (S)

The most jaded tween or teen likes brainteasers.  This is great for kids who want to fiddle with something for a short while and come back to it later – or fiddle with it all day. Here are four popular puzzles:

 

 

  • Mini Eni Puzzle – a great hand-held one-piece puzzle that kids can take with them, attach it to their backpacks.  Great for fidget toy.
  • Logiq Tower    – this wooden puzzle has more than 22,000 possible solutions.
  • Soma Cube –  wooden cube puzzle with only 1 solution

2. Rockets  (C) (S) (T)

I can’t tell you how many dads we meet who practically get misty-eyed when they see that we carry Estes rockets.  Their love of rocketry started when they were kids.  If your family hasn’t tried rockets, maybe this is the time – a father-son activity?

Estes 1403 Riptide Model Rocket

Riptide RTF Rocket

Sprinters (or novices) need a ready-to-fly, or RTF, rocket that requires almost no assembly with a launch set like the Riptide. (S)

Estes High Flier Model Rocket

Estes High Flier High Altitude Model Rocket

Creators and Tinkerers will like anything E2X & beyond (though start with the easier levels if your child is a novice).  The High Flier Model Rocket Kit  is a Level 1 skill level and flies up to 1500 feet.  It needs some assembly and painting and a launch set if you don’t have it. (C) (T)

For more information about rockets, please see my earlier posts:  Unplug your kids! and Model Rockets.  Feel free to call or email us if you’d like specific guidance.

3.  Building Toys (C)

The creator will take the basic units of these sets, add in stunts and then create all kinds of amazing contraptions or layouts that would make Rube Goldberg proud. Check out the videos!

Crazy Wall Coaster

I talked about this in my Kid Inventor post.  The Wall Coaster is basically a marble run that you attach to a wall and reposition as you experiment.  Also comes with stunt sets that make it that much more fun:

Q-Ba-Maze Big Box Set

Interlocking plastic cubes make this a 3D maze and marble run – physics & art in one set.  There are three types of cubes: hole in the center, one to the side, or two to the side.  Experiment with how the marbles run through the maze.  Use multiple marbles at once.  Only made more fun with stunt add-ons like vortexes, tubes, pivot trampoline & more:

4.  Flying toys  (C) (S) (T)

Is the boy is into planes and flight?  There are all kinds of planes and kits that will appeal to Creators, Sprinters and Tinkerers.

 

 

  • The Guillows Airplane Design Studio lets you design and build your own airplanes, biplanes, gliders. Comes with enough supplies to build 4 motorplanes and 4 gliders. (C) (T)

There are lots of other ready-to-fly planes that will appeal to both Sprinters & Tinkerers.  These are all rubber-powered (not radio-controlled) and many require little assembly but can be tweaked for enhanced performance.  (S) (T)

 

 

  • The P-51 Mustang requires minimal assembly and is rubber-launched. It loops, dives and flies great.  Can be tweaked for different flight patterns. (S)
  • The G36 Catapult Glider has 12″ wingspan and piggy-backed “Space Shuttle”. Great for learning basics of catapault launched gliding. Wing and stabilizer position can be adjusted so you can experiment with different settings. Assembly and flying requires careful reading of instructions, some dexterity & skill. (T)

Balsa airplane kits will appeal to Tinkerers. They require patience and dexterity, to.o

  • The Cadet Model Airplane Kit  Recommended age 10+. Build-time: 4 hours. Requires use of simple tools such as Exacto knife, pliers and artist’s brush. One of the first teaching designs when created in the 1940’s, this is the simplest model using stick-and-tissue construction. (T)
  • The Balsa Model Spitfire is recommended for ages 12+  Wingspan: 27″.  Rubber powered but can be converted to gas power. Requires a lot of attention to detail & patience! (T)

I’m partial to Ornithopters because I think they’re really cool.  They’re mechanical devices that fly by flapping their wings.

 

 

5.  2D & 3D puzzles (T)

 

 

Check out our Gift Guide to Puzzles – it includes puzzles for older kids.  Ravensburger’s 3D series of famous landmarks is fun – and take several hours to build.  Try the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben or the Empire State Building.  Or, try a 1500 or 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle or something devilish like the Krypt 654 piece Blank Puzzle. No image – just a uniform slate gray surface which includes a circular design.

6.  Tops & Yo-Yos (S)

Tops and yo-yos are classic toys and are great for kids who want to do something with their hands, master skills and reach for the next skill level.

For beginners, you can’t go wrong with the Wooden Throwing Top or the Trompos Saturn Top.

For more advanced throwers, try the Blizzard.  It spins smoothly on carpet, pavement, palm of the hand, or other rough surface. 

Why not pair a yo-yo with the Yomega Mania DVD?

The Yomega Brain is great for beginners.  The Yomega Raider is for more advanced users.

Hope this helps you think about what your Creator, Sprinter or Tinkerer might like.  You can always email or call us if you’d like help sorting out some of these choices.

 



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