Sunday, June 13, 2010

Brightlings Stackers by Leap Frog

This is a cute, but not very exciting, addition to the Brightling family of toys. The set of three little cups sit on top of a base that lights up when you push down on it. Strengths: The cups are a good size for little hands (9 months+) to grasp. The cups work well as nesting toys (putting one inside the other). Weaknesses: Based on my experience with the toy the weaknesses far out weigh the strengths. The cups are difficult to stack securely because the base of each cup is wavy, so there is a lot of frustration for little ones when attempting to stack the toy. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the base of the toy lights up, but you can make it light just by touching it, the cups don't even need to be involved in the play. If you're looking for a good stacking toy, there are betters ones than this out there. Price: $20 - $25. Where to Buy: The Stackers are a little bit hard to find because they aren't available in lots of toy stores, but you can of course find them online or through eBay.

Brightlings Exploration Station by Leap Frog

Home to Bobblers, Tumble Tunnel, Babbling Bandshell, Rainbow Balcony, and Alphabet Alley, the Brightlings Exploration Station offers a world of exciting activities for young children. This toy has two different modes, toddler and baby, which you activate by turning the green part on the top to hide the number or reveal them. In baby mode children can drop the brightling playpals in through the top and they come to the bottom which triggers music. In fact, just about every action on the toy triggers a song, except for the open/close gate and the yellow/blue/red tags you pull. When the toy is in toddler mode it will tell you how to say hello and goodbye in German, French, Japanese, Spanish, and English when you open/close the gate. You can move the tab around the ABC's so it sings the ABC song. It will also sing a number song when you drop the pals into the chute. Strengths: It's a fun toy to explore and you can easily use it with the other Brightlings play sets. Weaknesses: There is actually a HUGE weakness with this toy. It clearly states on the box that children under three years should not use it because of choking hazards on small parts, but the toy is obviously marketed for a much younger audience. It has a baby and a toddler mode, not a preschooler mode. This is a fun toy to play with, but you need to keep a very close eye on your little one when he or she uses it. Price: $20 - $30. Where to Buy: The toy was widely available about three years ago, but now you can only find them on sites like eBay or through online toy retailers.

Roll-a-Rounds Pull & Spin Caterpillar by Fisher Price

This is a great addition to the roll-a-rounds line of toys by Fisher Price. The caterpillar comes with three clear plastic balls that have movable pieces inside of them. When you pull the caterpillar, the balls move around and the little objects spin and wobble. Strengths: The toy is easy to pull across different floor surfaces and the balls are large enough for little hands to easily manipulate. Weaknesses: Since the balls are not contained under a plastic dome, they fall off of the toy easily which can become frustrating for children and adults alike. There is a plastic cover that comes as part of the packaging and I kept that on mine for quite a long time, until someone sat on it and crushed it (yes it was me!) Price: $25-$30. Where to Buy: This is a toy that actually came out several years ago but it's still available through eBay and Amazon.

Just a thought.......

Book reading is a special time for parents to share with their children. Not only can it be a time where you can feel close to your child, but it also provides an opportunity to help explore interesting new places and situations. The earlier you begin reading and tell stories to your child, the sooner reading will become an enjoyable part of his or her life! Here are some suggestions for making reading time a bit more fun for you and your child.
* Try to be face to with your child when you read.
* Let your child “read” the book the way he or she wants to. Don’t worry if you aren’t reading all of the words on the page! Your child may be interested in quickly flipping through the pages or concentrating on a particular picture.
* Give your child a chance to take a turn when reading books. This means you don’t have to do all of the talking. Give your child a chance to take a turn as you read the book.
* Stress important and interesting words. Add sound effects that your child will enjoy, like the sounds of animals and cars.
* Don’t feel you have to read fast in order to get the whole story completed. By slowing down you give your child a chance to better understand the words and concepts in the story. You are also giving your child more of a chance to take his or her own turn.
* Point out pictures or use gestures and sounds to help your child better understand the words of the story.
* Repeat, repeat, repeat! Even though your may be tired of a story doesn’t mean that your child is. Children love to hear the same stories over and over again. This helps children improve their vocabularies and supports concept development. Remember that practice makes perfect!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

There is something to be said for a book that was originally published in 1942 and has never been out of print since that time. Such is a the enduring magic of The Runaway Bunny. At its core the book is about the enduring love of a mother for her child and the lengths she is willing to go to keep her child safe, protected, and loved. Every child has a fantasy about running away from home, so does the baby bunny in this book. The book begins with baby bunny deciding to run away from home, but Mummy bunny says that is baby runs away she will run after him. This starts a very imaginative and highly creative game of chase between mother and child! Baby bunny talks about becoming a fish in the stream, a rock on a mountain, and a flower hidden in a secret garden. Each time Mama bunny comes up with an ingenious idea of how she would stay with him and bring him home. In addition to a fun story line, the illustrations in the book are very engaging for young readers. The pages alternate between black & white line drawing to fully coloured illustrations. It's a little thing, but it helps to keep the book interesting and appealing to young readers. Where to Buy: Given the enduring popularity of this story it is fairly easy to find in children's bookstore or online distributors.

Amazing Animals Sing Along Mummy & Baby Tiger by Fisher Price

This is a fun pair of animals for little hands to explore. The baby's legs and head click when you move them and the Mummy sings a little song about her baby when you turn her head. The paws on both Mummy and baby are textured, so children who enjoy exploring with their fingers or their mouths have something interesting to feel. The suggested manufacturer age range for this is toy is 3-7 years, but I have found that 2 year olds are much more interested in what these tigers have to offer than older children. Strengths: The toys are very easy to manipulate and they fit into the Amazing animals train and boat that I described earlier in the blog. Weaknesses: The play value is somewhat limited for this toy unless you combine it with some of the other Amazing Animal plat sets. The Mummy tiger also requires batteries and my tiger seems to go through them quickly. Price: $12 - $15. Where to Buy: You can find this toy primarily through online retailers like eBay, and Amazon.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don & Audrey Woods

This lovely book for toddlers and preschoolers is ultimately a great lesson about sharing with a friend. The story is basically about a little mouse who is trying to hide his beautiful, red, ripe strawberry from the big hungry bear, who he hears but never sees. The little mouse covers the strawberry with a blanket, wraps it in chains, puts a disguise on it, and ties all sorts of other things to keep his strawberry safe, but nothing he does seems like it will fool the bear. In the end, the mouse shares the strawberry with the reader, because that is the only way he can keep it from the bear. The illustrations in the book are beautiful and the face of the mouse is extremely expressive. The publisher recommends that this book would be appropriate for 4-8 year olds, but I have found it to be just as successful with the 30-36 month old crowd as well. Where to Buy: Although this book was originally published well over 15 years ago it's still available in children's book stores and online retailers.

More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams

This book gives us a glimpse at the adventures of three toddlers: Little Guy, Little Pumpkin, and Little Bird. In each vignette one child is chased, tickled, kissed, swung around, and given unconditional love by an adult in their life. The pictures in the book are done in vibrant colours, but are a little bit quirky and I've found that children are either absolutely fascinated by them or they take one look and just walk away. Something that is very unique about the book is that it depicts families from different racial and generational perspectives, which is really unusual for a book that targets the young reader. You can get "More, More, More said the Baby" in hard cover, board book, and paperback versions. It is also available in English and Spanish versions. Where to Buy: The book was originally published in 1996, but is fairly easy to find at bookstores that cater to children. You can also find it on that old standby - Amazon.

Monday, June 7, 2010

One Yellow Lion by Matthew Van Fleet

One Yellow Lion is a great lift-the-flap book that is designed to help little ones learn about simple counting and number concepts between 1 and 10. The illustrations that accompany each number are really ingenious, because the number is actually Incorporated into a part of the animal's body. For example, on the page for five blue whales, the number 5 makes up part of the mouth of the largest whale. Children not only enjoy the predictability of the counting concepts, but they also seem to enjoy making the sounds for the animals as they are revealed. This is a very simple book that gets a big reception every time I bring it out for the younger children I work with. Where to Buy: Although this is an "old" book (it was published in 1992) it remains extremely popular so you can still find it in all kinds of stores that sell books for young children.

Mini Wheel Pals: Train Fleet by Tonka

Think of these as Hot Wheels for toddlers! These chunky soft plastic vehicles are the perfect size for little hands to crash, drive, and push over all types of surfaces. The wheels are also made of a softer plastic, so they are easier on furniture than other small cars that children enjoy. There are actually several different sets of these five vehicle (I lost one of mine) collections including the Round Town Fleet, the Rescue Fleet, and the Construction Fleet. The cars are small enough to be easily portable but big enough not to pose a choking hazard for young children. They also come in larger versions that are fun for older children to play with. Strengths: The attachments for the wheels are actually hidden in the toys so little toddler fingers can't easily pull the wheels off. Weaknesses: None that any of the children I've used them with have been able to find. Price: $19 -$20 for a set of five small cars. Where to Buy: These are available at most major toy retailers as well as stores like Target and WalMart.

Big Smile, Baby by Charlotte Stowell & Phil Babb

This is another heavy gauge cardboard board lift-the-flap book that stands up well to little fingers that like to pull and tear at pages. The concept of the book is a simple one: each page starts out with an action that the child can imitate and then under a flap shows a picture of an animal that emulates the action the child has performed. For example, "Reach up high, baby... as tall as a.... (lift the flap) Giraffe!" There are five full spread pages in the book, each with a different action and animal for older infants and toddlers to explore. I like the book because it gives young children some practice with following simple directions involving body movements as well as helping them develop an understanding of the characteristics of different animals. Where to Buy: Most large children's book sellers carry this book or you can always find it on Amazon.

Stack and Smile Crocodile by Fisher Price

If your little one likes blocks this toy is probably a good bet for you. The crocodile comes with 4 or 5 peek-a-blocks (blocks with little animals an objects inside of them) that can be stored inside the crocodile when the toy is not being played with. The blocks stack fairly easily on the crocodile's back and because they have a bristle-block texture on them they tend to stay stuck together pretty well. Strengths: The blocks are a nice size for little hands and the crocodile makes cute sounds when you put the blocks in the mouth or in the storage space on it's back. Weaknesses: The storage space on the crocodile's back doesn't latch, so the blocks spill out easily unless you keep the toy on a level surface. Price: Because this toy has been off of the market for a little while you can buy it used for about $10 - $12 online at Amazon, or if you want a new one you could pay up to about $70 (in my opinion, a bit over priced for the overall quality and play value of the toy). When it first came out it was priced between about $25 - $30. Where to Buy: Amazon or other online toy sellers.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Amazing Animals Press & Go Cheetah & Crocodile by Fisher Price

Infants and toddlers really enjoy cause-effect toys, and these two cute little critters from Fisher Price don't disappoint. When you push down on the birds that sit on the back of the crocodile, his mouth opens and closes as he zooms across the floor. When the turtle that sits on the cheetah's back is pushed down, the cheetah's tail wags and clicks as it rolls along. Strengths: These toys don't require batteries and they work well on a variety of floor surfaces. Weaknesses: For young children it can be difficult to push down the birds and turtle that make the toy go. This can lead to some frustration so they are best used if an adult or older child joins in the play. Price: $14 - $20 (each animal is sold separately and the crocodile is usually the more expensive of the two). Where to Buy: Most recently I've seen the cheetah at stores like Toys R' Us, but I've only been able to find the crocodile online.

Animal Noises by Stephen Cartwright

This is a cute book for older infants and young toddlers (between about 9 - 15 months of age). There are only 5 animals in the book, a cow, pig, sheep, cat, and dog, so it's a quick and simple read that won't overwhelm a young child who is just starting to become interested in looking at books. The pictures and cute and very vividly coloured, which is a big attraction for curious little ones! This is a board book so it can withstand all kinds of abuse from little fingers and mouths. Where to Buy: You can purchase this book at most major children's book sellers or directly from the publisher at

Learning Fun Tool Box by V Tech

This is a fun, interactive toy for children between the ages of 12 -30 months. The toolbox comes with four detachable tools, and produces realistic sounds when you use these tools to pound, cut, and turn. There are nails to hammer, screws to turn, and a special slot that lets you cut with the saw. The toy focuses on teaching colour, number, and shape concepts. Strengths: Even thought the toy is designed to teach early academic skills, it's a great toy for interactive social play as well. Weaknesses: The tool box closes and has a nice handle for carrying it, but unfortunately three of the four tools won't fit inside when you close the lid, so it's easy to lose the pieces. Price: $19 -$22. Where to Buy: I've seen this toy in a variety of different stores including Target, Toys R Us, specialty toy shops, and naturally all over the web. Just google it to ensure that you get it at a good price.

Just a thought......

Choosing "good" toys for children can be really difficult. When you walk into a toy store you are usually bombarded with all kinds of options and it can be tough to decide what type of toy your child will enjoy the most. Here are the five most important factors that I take into consideration when trying to decide what to purchase. (1) Does the toy have sensory appeal? This means I look at elements such as textures, sounds, lights, colours, and movement. These are things that can make a toy appealing to a young child. (2) How easy is the toy to operate? Some toys look like a lot of fun, but if they are to difficult for your child to turn off/on it can become frustrating for child. I like to find toys that will pose a challenge for a child, but not ones that will be to difficult to make play fun. (3) Can the toy be used in a variety of ways? I try to find toys that encourage open-ended play. This means that there is no right or wrong way to use the toy. Toys that can be used in many different ways are the ones that tend to keep a child's interest for the longest period of time. (4) What is the toy's potential for interaction? Great toys are the ones that really engage a child or keeps them interested for a long period of time. Although it's nice to find a toy that a child can use independently it's even more important that a toy that can be used to promote social interactions. Whenever possible it's good to find a toy that will encourage social engagement because children learn the most when they are able to play with other people. (5) Will a toy encourage exploration? It's always nice to find a toy that encourages creativity, uniqueness, and making choices.

Ketchup on Your Cornflakes? by Nick Sharratt

This delightful book for preschoolers gives children a chance to play with their food (and other familiar items) without getting messy! Each page is split into two parts - dutch door style - and allows the reader to come up with some really silly ideas of what to do with food and other familiar items, like a hat or rubber duck. You can create pages like "Do you like ice cream on your head?" or "Do you like toothpaste on your apple pie?" The pictures are done in vivid, saturated colours that make the book really appealing to young readers. It's a great book that helps children make language predictions, encourages problem solving skills, and is just plain silly and fun to read. Where to Buy: This book was originally published in 1994, so it's not readily available in local bookstores. You can however find it on Amazon and eBay.

Tumble 'n Twirl Top by Playskool

This toy is simple fun at its best for infants and toddlers starting at about 8 months of age! The brightly coloured, pump action toy keeps little ones interested as they push the plunger down to make the balls spin quickly around. If the balls are spun fast enough, they actually pop out of the spout on the top of the happy face. Another great feature of the toy is that the clear plastic cover on the front of the toy slides open and closed so the balls can be removed without having to shake the toy . Strengths: This is a very durable little toy that doesn't require any batteries. It's very easy for young children to operate and can be used for solitary play as well as more social games. Weaknesses: The toy is made primarily out of a hard plastic, which makes it easy to clean, but there are three little pieces of crinkly fabric at the top of the spout that can only be spot cleaned. Price: $16 - $21. Where to Buy: Like most Playskool toys the Tumble 'n Twirl Top is available at most major retailers that carry a wide selection of children's toys.