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A Beginner's 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.


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

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.


unplugkidscoverThe #1 thing I hear is: “I can’t get my child off the screen.”  Unplug your kid with these 8 screen-free toys and activities that they’ll love enough to put down that electronic device!  For some of these, all you have to do is leave them out on a table; others require some supervision – a great way for you to play with your child!

1.  Gyrobot

A robot that can walk a tight rope!  The Gyrobot – Science of Gyroscopes Kit makes learning about the importance and power of gyroscopes fun.  Includes a  24-page educational booklet. Winner of Dr. Toy’s 100 Best Toys of 2013.  Requires 3 AAA batteries (not included). Ages 8+  Take a look at the video!


2.  Rockets

You definitely can’t leave these lying around but who doesn’t think rockets are cool?  Many kids develop a life-long passion for rockets so now is the time to nurture that passion.

We carry Estes model rockets that come in all skill levels.  If you don’t have a launch set and controller, you should get a rocket package that includes them because it’s more cost-effective.

Estes 1403 Riptide Model RocketFor absolute beginners, look for “RTF” ready-to-fly rockets.  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 rocket, parachute, and controller are reusable.  You will need to get some parts separately (see link for full description).

See our earlier post for more rocket flying tipsThe youngest recommended age is 10 years with adult supervision.

3.  Science Kits

Science Wiz Physics We carry the award-winning Science Wiz science kits.  The Physics Science Kit is a great way to develop a basic understanding of the laws of motion, weight, force, mass, velocity and acceleration. A 40-page science book, materials and illustrated step by step instructions let children play and learn by themselves.  24 different activities including launching a bottle rocket, performing tricks with inertia, measuring mass and spinning water upside down. The Physics Science Kit has won awards from Creative Child Magazine and Dr.Toy Best Toy and Best Vacation Toy. Ages 8+

Other Science Wiz Kits: choose from Chemistry, Inventions, Light Science, Electricity, Energy, Crystals and Capacitor Car.  Some kits may require supervision.

We also have party-sized kits that will engage and entertain 5-6 children:  Bottle Rocket Party Kit and the Crazy Chemistry Party Kit.

4. Marble Ball Track 

Marble ball track is a great open-ended, classic toy that lets children build and experiment – a great toy for future engineers.  Start with the basic Haba Wooden Ball Track set and then add on accessories so your child can expand the creative possibilities.  Kids as young as three can play with basic sets but older kids can really bring out their inner Rube Goldberg.  Watch what they can create. The sets are made of sustainably grown hardwood and are manufactured in Germany.  These will be around for your grandchildren!  My husband still has his! Ages 3+

Two of the HABA add-ons that I like are:

5. Q-Ba-Maze

Q-Ba-Maze Q-Ba-Maze differs from traditional ball track in that it’s 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. Ages 6 -14

6.  Citiblocs

Your child probably isn’t playing with the chunky building blocks of his childhood but s/he’ll love creating all kinds of sculptures with Citiblocs – plank blocks that come in different colors. You can use then as building blocks and/or dominos.  Look at the video below to see an AMAZING Citiblocs creation!

I leave a few bags of these on my coffee table and kids and adults are drawn to them. They come in Cool Colors (blues & greens), Hot Colors (red, orange, yellow, pink) and Natural wood. Made of sustainable New Zealand pine.

One of Time Magazine’s “15 Smartest Toys for Young Geniuses” and recipient of numerous awards.  No snaps, magnets or glues needed with these blocks – just imagination & gravity!  


7.  Brainteaser puzzles

I have seen middle school kids drop everything to play with brainteaser puzzles.  In the 6th grade, my son was obsessed with Maple Landmark’s Mental Aerobics – it was the first and the last thing he did each day.  The puzzle is a tangram with 102 possible solutions and is made of Vermont hardwood.   It has won several awards and has been recommended by the National Association for Gifted Children. Ages 8+

Eni Brainteaser PuzzleAnother popular puzzle is the Eni Puzzle.  Middle-schoolers love them but kids as young as 5 will have fun with them, too – as will adults!   This puzzle is a perfect travel companion as it requires no batteries, notepads, pens, pencils or electrical outlets. Great for developing hand to eye coordination, simple problem solving skills and spatial relationships.

The Eni is a great stocking stuffer or goody bag gift!  There are two sizes:

  • The Mini Eni Puzzle  offers lots of solutions as each column has 8 pieces by 8 colors.  Comes in black/white or bold hot colors.
  • The Keychain Eni Puzzle is obviously smaller with 4 pieces by 4 colors.  You can attach it to a backpack or computer bag.  Comes in pastels or bold hot colors.

8. Paper Airplanes & the PowerUp

 Power Up Airplane conversion kitYou’re thinking: “My child is so over paper airplanes.”  Not when your child sees the 12 really sophisticated designs and hot graphics in the Whitewings Hotshots Paper Airplane book.  Your child can make planes that fly far and straight & can be tweaked for maximum performance. Ages 4+

Triple the fun when your child adds the PowerUp to his paper airplane.  It’s the world’s first electric-powered paper airplane! Make a paper airplane that flies well, clip on the PowerUp Power Kit and your creation can fly for 30 seconds or more after a 20 second charge with the included charger. Ages 8+

How hard is it to unplug your child?   I bet that any one of these will do the trick!


Baking Soda Science Toy Rocket Car Science Kit

Scientific Explorer Rocket Car

Happy National No Housework Day!  Why not use some baking soda science to power up some toy rockets?

Baking Soda Science & Toy Rockets

In an earlier post, Turner Toys Has Model Rockets, we highlighted our line of Estes Model Rockets. Now, we have some toy rocket kits that use baking soda science as fuel.  Like other flying toys (see earlier posts on flying toys and science toys), these double as science toys.

These kits are a great way to learn about chemistry and physics.  The baking soda and vinegar starts a chemical reaction in the fueling module.  Experiment with different proportions of vinegar and baking soda or even types of vinegar (balsamic, anyone?) to see how it affects flight.   These rocket kits have received awards and accolades from Family Life Magazine, Parent’s Choice and Discover Magazine.

Bear in mind that these toys are projectiles and require adult supervision.


Scientific Explorer Rocket Car Kit

Remember those images of vintage land speed record cars?  Recreate your own with the Scientific Explorer Rocket Car kit from Poof Slinky.  Powered by vinegar and baking soda it can travel over 200 feet on a smooth surface. Fueling module can be adjusted to desired power level to accommodate student drivers and seasoned veterans. Some assembly is required, completed car measures over 15″ long. Ages 9 and up.


 Baking Soda Science Scientific Explorer Meteor Toy Rocket Kit Scientific Explorer Meteor Rocket kit

This colorful rocket can fly up to 100 feet powered by its patented baking soda fuel system.  Fueling module can be adjusted to desired power level to accommodate beginning flyers and seasoned veterans. Some assembly is required, completed rocket measures 17″ tall. Ages 9 and up.



What are your childhood memories of baking soda and vinegar experiments?

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