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)
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. Kids 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.
to a 3000 piece world map (circa 1665).
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.
What toys have you found entertaining, educational (or both!) during past vacations?
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.
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.
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.
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). Placement 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.
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.
When 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!
What are your tips for a winning car?
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.
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
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!
This 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Design 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
This 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
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!
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.
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.
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 Citiblocs. Wooden 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?