Toys to Engage Your Little Learner

Last month Rocky was recruited to be a toy reviewer for a California-based company called Educational Insights. This company has been around for 50 years, creating and selling wonderful toys that are both fun and educational. He was elated when we received a big box containing several age appropriate products for him to try. This is the first post of a two part review of the toys we received.

GeoSafari Talking Microscope

GeoSafari Talking Microscope

The first item we tried was a talking microscope built just for young children. It brought back memories of when I was a kid and I sold magazines to earn the “prize” of my choosing, a cheaply built and disappointing child’s microscope. What a difference between the one I had and this new version. I’m jealous. This toy includes 12 slides of such interesting animals as the black widow and the scorpion.  Attach the slides to the scope to view a bug and hit a button to hear some facts about it. There is another button you press to take a quiz about what you just heard. I was impressed at how it tested Rocky’s listening skills and how eager he was to answer. Before long, my boy was absorbing all the facts and telling them back to me. “Mom,” he said. “Did you know the jumping spider can jump as far as half an inch?” That is great as long as it isn’t jumping in my house!

Here’s the lowdown.

The good:

If you have a young science buff like mine who loves the idea of a microscope but might not be ready the real thing (very expensive and fragile!), this is a perfect introduction. It is made of plastic and pretty durable. It operates using buttons (what kid doesn’t love pushing buttons?). It has a nice sturdy eye hole and magnifies 5x. Considering the number of loud, annoying toys in his arsenal, I also appreciated the fact that this toy has a volume button.

The bad:

The cost is about $40 which seems a little high, especially since it needs three batteries which aren’t included. Watch for coupons and discounts, it is a real gem on sale. Eductational Insights has many vendors, including Amazon.com and Target which might sell it for less.

We hope the company will consider adding more slides to the collection, Rocky would’ve loved to keep going. I would also suggest a compartment within the microscope to store the slides so they won’t get separated and lost. Perhaps a place to plug in headphones.

Conclusion:

This toy has won numerous awards and there is a reason why. It is a wonderful learning tool for kids in the 4-7 range. The slides are great but you can also use as a regular microscope and view anything you find around the house or garden. A nice starting place for discussion about observation.

Design & Drill Take-Along Toolkit

Design and Drill Take-Along Toolkit

Next out of the box came this adorable, portable toolkit. Unlike other toy toolkits we’ve used, this one came with a functioning power drill that could be used to screw the bolts onto the board provided. The drill also reverses to unscrew the bolts and has interchangeable drill bits (they all work with the bolts). Use the patterns provided or create your own. Rocky got right to work. It kept him busy for quite some time, always a plus in my book.

The good:

Rocky is 5 but I could see preschool-aged kids really digging this toolkit as well. It is very entertaining. It folds up into a carrying case and is great for taking to Grandma’s house or keeping kids busy at a hotel.  Add to a kid tool table or break it out to keep your child busy while you are making dinner.

The bad:

Retails at $29.99. As with toy above, look for sales.

Not enough bolts of a particular color were given to complete some of the patterns. Rocky had to substitute colors which was a little frustrating. He wanted it to look just like the picture!

When all the bolts were screwed in, there was not enough space to store the drill. We had to undo the pattern in order to put away. Not a big deal but perhaps a little more depth would take care of this issue.

Batteries not included.

Conclusion:

Any kid who loves tool and/or loves to build will enjoy this toy. It is great for eye/hand coordination and it is just plain fun to do. Easy to store.  For $10 more you can upgrade to the full on Activity Kit that comes with a fun looking combination wrench, a bigger board and more accessories.

These are just a small sampling of the many great products offered by Educational Insights. They make toys for all age levels. Perhaps you’ve even heard of some of the brands they carry like Hot Dots, GeoVision and Smencils.  Check out their web site to find out more. Find out what local stores sell these toys and go see them for yourself!

Click here to read part two of our review.

Disclosure: The Librarian was given toy samples in exchange for fair and honest reviews.

***The Gen X Moms are no longer writing as a group (too many scheduling conflicts) but you can continue reading about my adventures with Rocky on my new blog at:

http://www.jedismama.com

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Just the Right Notes

A sampling of Rocky's love notes

My child often gifts “I love you” notes to friends and family. He sees what a positive response he gets from the recipients and it makes him feel good. Once he gave one to a little girl he plays with at the YMCA. Her mom jokingly told me about how the girl’s father had gotten emotional about the fact that their little daughter had received her first love note from a boy already. “Don’t worry,” I laughed. “He gives them to all the children he likes.” And ladies. Especially good looking ones.

I may not be a young beauty like the girls at the Y but in Rocky’s eyes I am the “prettiest woman in the galaxy” and the lucky recipient of the majority of the notes he writes. If I tried to keep them all, I would probably qualify as a hoarder by the end of the year. But I feel guilty throwing them away. As a compromise, I keep a few and I take pictures of others. They are a lovely pick me up during those times when I am forced to be a “mean mommy”, when doors get slammed on me and when the back talk starts.

It occurred to me one day that Rocky might like a few notes in return. DUH! Not sure why it took me so long to come to this conclusion. My sister-in-law works for a company called Chronicle Books; they produce some great coffee table books, kids’ materials and knick knacks. You have probably seen their stuff at any bookstore but just don’t realize it. She brings us all kinds of interesting books including stuff like the Sounds of Star Wars and photo books on everything from beer to toys to cupcakes. One of the products she gifted me was this awesome little note set called Mini Lunch Notes. Perfect!

I began to stick a few of these handy notes here and there. I hide them in his jacket, in his lunchbox, etc.  “I love you no matter what,” I write, “Keep up the good work” or “Please eat your banana.” Each time I do this he gets so excited; who knew a few little words would have such an impact? I wish he would stay this young just a few years longer, that just a simple note could give him such a high. I know it won’t always be this way and so I will just milk this as long as I can.

***The Gen X Moms are no longer writing as a group (too many scheduling conflicts) but you can continue reading about my adventures with Rocky on my new blog at:

http://www.jedismama.com

Potty Humor

So the potty humor hasn’t arrived full force yet but I am bracing myself for it. Lately my 5-year-old has been fascinated with big butts. He’s pointed them out to me a few times which prompted the whole, “don’t say that too loudly or you might hurt someone’s feelings” lecture again. I suppose I should be thankful he’s not the kid who loves to run around in his underwear all the time (that was my nephew). Some, like a certain relative’s family, openly embrace the apparent funniness that goes along with jokes about bodily functions. Said relative actually gave out whoopie cushions for one of his young daughter’s birthdays. They were a big hit, I heard. Too bad we lived too far away to attend. Really. Shucks. Darnit.

I know the gross out stuff is to be expected, especially for boys in the 5-7-year-old crowd but I’d rather not encourage it too much. Oh sure, I had my share of Garbage Pail Kid trading cards (Snotty Lotty was a favorite) but that is about as far as I ever took it. On the other hand, if I make too big a deal about it, it will just make the kid want to use it even more, right? And perhaps there’s a chance that my child will not even care for it. I doubt it. I anticipate big time giggles, etc. Rocky is a goofy boy, if armed with the right material, he will take it and run with it. I will have to think of some good distractions.

***The Gen X Moms are no longer writing as a group (too many scheduling conflicts) but you can continue reading about my adventures with Rocky on my new blog at:

http://www.jedismama.com

Using Public Bathrooms

How old should a boy be before sending him to the men’s restroom by himself? Is it okay to keep taking him to the women’s bathroom until he’s 7 or does that make other women too uncomfortable? Even sending him at 7 makes me worry. Something like 90% of pedophiles are men and it would seem that public bathrooms would be an obvious place for them to stalk. Am I being too paranoid? Not to mention that the men’s rooms I’ve seen tend to be dirtier than the ladies rooms.

Rocky is 5 and a bit tall for his age. Whenever possible we use family restrooms or single person bathrooms while we are out. But there are still those times when I must take him to the ladies room with me. Most other women do not seem to care;  if they do, I haven’t noticed. I have had a couple of encounters with women who have said something though. Rocky was even younger so I just let it go. I wasn’t about to send him alone just because a stranger objected to him being in the women’s room. Get over it, lady! Now that he’s getting older (and bigger) I have to start thinking about this again. Maybe I should time him in the men’s room and be prepared to peek in if he takes too long? I’m sure some unsuspecting guy would love that! I can only imagine how it must be for a stay-at-home dad raising little girls…

Hey, if you think bathrooms are germy, don’t forget to use those wipes after going to the ATM. Turns out they are just as bad.

And now for the annoying song going through my head that I must share so you, too, can be singing it all day:

Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you!

***The Gen X Moms are no longer writing as a group (too many scheduling conflicts) but you can continue reading about my adventures with Rocky on my new blog at:

http://www.jedismama.com

Retailer Impressions

Rocky's lost Santa gift

Now that the holiday shopping season is winding down, were there any standout retailers, good or bad, in your experience? I shopped plenty of different venues, everywhere from Amazon.com to my local Target. Here were some of my impressions.

First let’s get the bad stuff over with. Just a minor offense by our local Golfsmith store but they allegedly ran out of gift boxes in the first week of December, no doubt due to the swarms of golfers who hit the store so soon before Christmas. Really? You couldn’t estimate better than that? Old Navy lost points in my book because they were charging for their boxes. Even at Christmas time? Here’s the worst of it. Disneystore.com lost my child’s Santa gift before it even got to UPS. It was a Mickey Mouse bean bag chair I know he would like (were any of you lucky enough to get this one?), I ordered it a month before Christmas (just to be safe) and they still botched it up. Worse, they stayed in denial throughout all of my communications with them until it finally came down to the wire and then they had no choice but to fess up. By then the item was out of stock and too bad for me. Grrrrr. But wait, the customer service department, who annoyingly told me they wanted me to have a “magical experience” every time I corresponded with them could only muster enough magic to present me with a $10 voucher on Dec. 21 to be used towards shipping of another item. Do I really want to put myself through this again? I think not, the voucher didn’t even cover the cost of the 2 day shipping I would need. Upon further presenting my case, one sole rep decided I should get more for my trouble. My ears perked at the sound of this, I’ve been sick this week and didn’t particularly want to go out in the rain looking for that last minute item, I was hoping for a Disney pass or at least a decent gift card. I got a $12 plush Mickey to arrive on Christmas Eve. I’m not holding my breath on that one. I also found a couple of other friends who have had bad experiences with the online Disney store so scratch this vendor off my list.

Now the good. The JC Penney store, which, like many stores now, had to do away with their gift wrap department (so sad to see this service go) came through on the boxes, I even got extras just for the asking, no hassles. They put out some great coupons like $10 off anything (yes, you could actually get a $10 item for free) and had decent markdowns and lines that were tolerable. Macy’s had some super sales and huge discounts, boxes included as well. Nordstrom tends to be pricier and the sales less impressive but the customer service is usually right on and everything is so nicely folded in tissue and placed in great sturdy bags. Online stores Sears.com and BarnesandNoble.com came through with my orders in a timely manner, everything packaged nicely and bonus points/special offers were received. Sears has a club that’s free to join and Barnes and Noble has a free kid’s club that allowed us some extra discounts. Free shipping was a plus as well as the ability to return gifts at their local stores.

That’s a wrap for me. Happy Holidays!

Nothing is Forever

Do you recognize this character?

I know the Christmas season is all about being charitable but it seems everywhere I  go now I get hit up for more money. It used to be I could just give to the Salvation Army reps who stood outside the stores with bells and buckets, alerting me to their presence but  never harassing me when I walked by. There were school and church fundraisers where I could buy from people I know. Now I get people who want money and food for a homeless shelter actually accosting me EVERY time I go to the grocery store, not just for the holidays. “Don’t make eye contact,” I tell myself. I don’t like being this way but otherwise I feel the need to explain why I’m not contributing each and every time I shop for food. Retailers now make the employees ask outright, would you like to add a dollar to that for this or that? In this case, I usually end up saying yes because they all sound like good causes and who wants to say no to the children’s hospital in front of all the other customers? Plus there is no way to avoid eye contact with a cashier. Unfortunately, it all adds up and by the time I find a cause I really want to give a more sizeable donation to, the money is gone. Then I feel guilty like maybe I shouldn’t have splurged on a facial I got last month.  (It was AWESOME by the way.) Too late! Guess I’ll be signing up for more volunteer hours instead. Letters to the military is an easy one. I can’t remember what blog had the idea about giving kids allowance and asking them to save a portion of it in a jar and then choose what causes to use it for the following year, but maybe it’s time to inspire my little man.

Speaking of charitable causes, here’s one that won’t break the bank. All you have to do is have your child write a letter to Santa and drop it into a designated mailbox at any Macy’s store. For every letter they receive, Macy’s donates $1 to the Make-a-Wish Foundation up to a million. They even have a cute web site for you to create and print the letter: http://social.macys.com/believe2010/#/home. Rocky sent a letter asking to be surprised and then added “unless I am on the naughty list for not following the rules at school and yelling at mommy”. He’s pretty curious to know if Santa really would give him coal. He’s torn between testing the theory and risking his presents.

Does anyone know if a Swiffer Wet Jet really is a good buy? Rocky got hooked on the idea last year after watching a commercial. He continues explaining to me that I need it because it is especially good at cleaning corners.  My sister’s son has a similar affection for Aqua Globes. Do those work?

What is your best bargain find so far? I got one of those free $10 certificates that JC Penney sends out every now and then and bought a gift that also happened to be 65% off the day I went in the store. I paid about $5 for a $45 item. Sears sent me a certificate from their club program that I used to buy $65 shoes for $6. Should I even bother putting a gift receipt in those boxes? Found a $90 Lennox table cloth for $12. Oh and so far I’ve managed to get three free magazine subscriptions just for being a member of magazines.com and for ordering flowers. Just in time to let all my paid subscriptions slide.

Just heard the tune “Hey Ya!” on the radio. Always puts a pep in my step even though if you listen to the lyrics it’s not an entirely happy song. I hate being tricked like that.

Sent your Christmas cards yet? Me neither. Quit your bloggin’ and get to it! I mean me, not you. You can hop on over to the Unmom for more randomness.

randomtuesday

Got Cork? Get Creative!

My first attempt at a wine cork wreath.

I did not get the artistic gene in my family. My mother reminds me of this fact. “Mom,” I asked her once. “Why do you keep that ugly clay duck I made in 6th grade? It has no neck, the beak is misshapen and the colors are all off.” She shook her head and said, “I keep it because I know it was the best you could do.” I think she takes pity on me because she didn’t get the gene either. Like recently when I painted a basic happy birthday sign for my son’s party. She took one look at it and said, “You needed your sisters to help you with that.” Ah geez.

Well, I may not be the artist/animator with a strong musical background like my older sister. Nor do I have a passion for sewing that my younger sister has, something that came in very handy after she had three children by the age of 30.

A different take.

But, c’mon Mom, I’m not totally lacking in creativity. Check out these cork wreaths I made this month. While there are other blogs that will give you step by step instructions on how to recycle your wine corks, I got what I thought I could use at the craft store (a glue gun, a couple different kinds of wreath bases and some ribbon) and went to work. To be honest, I came across the idea last year and casually mentioned that I could use a few corks to one of the relatives. She recruited a couple of others and, a year later, they delivered boxes full and told me they couldn’t wait to see what I was going to do with them. Darn it. I guess I’d better follow through, I thought. (I hope it’s true they were collecting from friends as well because otherwise those relatives drink quite a bit. I’m just sayin’.) So far I’ve made three wreaths and I still have many more corks leftover. Looks like someone’s getting wine cork trivets this year! Or maybe some cork ornaments from Rocky. Placeholders are another easy use. I recently visited a chic hotel that used wine corks in tall glass vases as decor. Must be the in thing now. Look, Scriv, conveniently green! Ho ho ho.

 

***The Gen X Moms are no longer writing as a group (too many scheduling conflicts) but you can continue reading about my adventures with Rocky on my new blog at:

http://www.jedismama.com