Category: Toys + Playthings

Real art kits for real kids

I get the appeal of the no-mess paints and markers out there that let your kids create and be creative without completely ruining your kitchen table. But there is something about the experience of allowing them to delve into the real stuff, and Clementine Art Kits do just that. Created by Boulder-based real-life art studio owners Diana Mercer and Susanna Carillo, these kits feature everything your child will need to engage in a near studio-like art making process. Whether you’ve got a mini Michelangelo or a budding Basquiat, their sculpture and painting kits (just to name a couple) will...

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DIY toys, hold the hammer and nails

In concept, I’m all for kids making and decorating their own toys. But the fact that they generally involve sharp, pointy tools along with paint that does not come off  with a simple bar of soap sort of puts a damper on my plans. But Calafant cardboard toys? That’s most definitely my kind of DIY. These European cardboard toys come in every variety, from cars to rockets, palaces to pirate ships, all of which require no more than your own two hands and some family time. You don’t even need scissors. Or glue. Your kids can decorate them with the included...

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Cloth books without the mass production

Thanks to my son’s infatuation with cloth books, I’m able to enjoy a good portion of our daily car rides without having to ply him with 400 cheerios I end up cleaning from his carseat later. So I’ve decided to stockpile them, starting with the ridiculously cute “quiet books” from SW Designs. Mom Shelley Wallace hand creates these amazing soft fabric books, including Discover Dinos (pictured), Colors, or her Halloween counting book Witch’s Brew, all of which would make the most fantastic new baby, one year birthday, or “just because I must have them now!” gift. If you’re super crafty, Shelley...

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Thomas Claire: Taking the Pain out of Painting Pottery

Taking my kids to a paint-your-own-pottery place is not in my job description. The drive there, the eternity spent as my children pick out the “perfect” piece to paint, my toddler–oh my toddler– in that room of breakables… and then I pay a ton for the privilege to boot? No thanks.  All praise Thomas Claire which now lets you do it all right from your own home. With a few strokes of the keyboard, you order a kit (trinket boxes for us but there are mugs, birthday plates, animal figurines and plenty more) and pick your paint colors. You’ll...

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Mobile homes

Oh what my daughter wouldn’t give to be able to pack up her beloved dollhouse and take it with her. So imagine what she did when she saw the set of Nested Country Cottages from Olie Bollen.  These two brightly colored paper board boxes open from the top, lunchbox style, so your kiddo can stack them full of random junk–er, precious keepsakes. But with cutout windows and a cute velcro sidebar, each can easily double as a dollhouse for quick trips to a friend’s or long visits to Grandma’s. I guess it’s sort of like a mobile dollhouse, huh....

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Eco dolls, not eek-oh dolls

Ever since coming across something called an “eco doll” that was made of pvc and served up in plastic packaging, I’ve been pretty skeptical of the eco label on toys. Sometimes it fits and sometimes…well, at least the intent is good. But Sue Lappan of EcoLeeko achieves both with her colorful plush dolls and baby rattles. The outsides are all certified organic cotton corduroy and squishy soft bamboo fleece, the stuffing is natural stuff like kapok and walnut shells, and even the thread is organic. Not that your kid will understand any of this. They’ll just love that critter,...

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The handmade dolls you’ll want to sleep with yourself

For the most part, I don’t spontaneously exclaim awwwww and get all teary when I get a new baby toy for review, but that’s totally what happened when I peeled open the sweet little canvas bag to reveal the plush baby doll from Bumblebird. Designer Heather Renz makes soft, fleecey, huggable, loveable little creatures with the most adorable hand-embroidered faces. They’re the toys you kind of hope your baby will fall in love with so that the doll ends up in every photo. As opposed to, you know, Elmo. –LizCongratulations to Brooke E, winner of that adorable plush baby...

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Hazelnut Kids – Our kind of toy store

One of the best outcomes of the toy recalls of 07 is the transparency we’re now finding from so many retailers–where and how their products are made, what they’re made with, and how confident you can be when your 9 month spends the better part of her day with the monkey’s head in her mouth. Another shop to add to your list of Toy Stores That Get It is the wonderful Hazelnut Kids. This parent-run shop has an entire section on toy safety that gives very informative details about the brands they carry, like how the owner of Chelona...

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Crafty genes by mail order

Update: This site no longer exists. RIP Kid’s Busy Box.   I thought that 4 hours of preschool every day would satiate my daughter’s immense hunger for crafts, but alas, she still comes home from school running directly for the glue and construction paper.  I am totally prepared now thanks to the Kid’s Busy Box. This is a genius invention by five smart moms (of course!) who have put together twenty (count them!) ready-to-make toddler and preschool crafts along with simply directions and every supply needed to complete them all in one big box. Got more than one kid...

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Eeboo – Going Green Through Flash Cards

I’m always on the lookout for ways to teach my four-year-old about conservation other than asking her to turn off the lights 400 times a day (followed by my long boring speech about saving the earth). Thankfully, Eeboo has created these cool Respect the Earth flashcards that can help support your message. This set of 48 brightly illustrated cards along with a helpful parent guide offer simple lessons for kids 5 and up, like recycling plastic, turning off the water, and my favorite, playing with toys that don’t require batteries. Here here! We all know that learning by example is great,...

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Haba Biofino Play Food – Putting My Own Cooking to Shame

I won’t be winning any cooking awards any time soon, but as far as the concoctions my daughter and son are creating in their play kitchen, courtesy of Haba’s new Biofino line of cloth play food, they’re on their way to winning Top Chef. Like everything I’ve ever seen from Haba, these imaginary edibles feature smart, durable, kid-friendly designs. Each collection from the adorable veggie crate (pictured) to the sweet muffin trio–all of which is available at online toy shop Petit Baby— is also created under strict safety standards, so if your child decides that the pizza does in...

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Made in China? Absolutely.

When it comes to buying gifts for my friend’s kids, I really try hard to find unique items that no one else would think of, but aren’t so obscure that the poor kid has to ask his parents what the heck it is. Enter the Dumpling Dynasty Explorer Kit, one of a slew of super cool new Wu & Wu products from illustrator Fiona Hewitt and Asian kitsch expert, Andy Tainton. The funky retro-Chinese tin is filled to the brim with cool goodies like a magnifying glass, flashlight, knot-tying guide, metal compass, and notebook — all of which are...

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Yadda Yadda Yadda Blah Blah Blah

You wouldn’t think a bunch of blabbermouths like our family would need help starting a conversation, but I’ve got to thank The Chatterbox for providing some welcome encouragement in that area. Instead of questions about obscure Baby Boomer-era trivia, the cards are all about stuff parents really want to discuss with their kids but often don’t know how.  The categories admittedly sound a little dry – like Building Character and Goal Planning – but the questions are conversational and really do inspire kids to open up. Maybe too much. When we asked my six year-old “Do you know anyone...

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The Best Combination that Dado Squares Make? Kids + Imagination

“Oh my”, I thought,”these look like a bunch of colorful floppy discs. What in the world are the kids going to do with these?” Silly mommy. Don’t you see that they easily fit together and make…a rocket ship that I can fly around the house? A s-u-p-e-r long diving board? A tall skyscraper? A parking garage for a dozen little cars? Clearly, my kids can see the possibilities. They have taken to the Dado Squares like mini architects, fitting the pieces together into an array of buildings, vehicles and 3D whatnots. They don’t have to know that they are...

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This Little Piggie Makes Us All Go Whee Whee Whee

I used to think that a rattle was some generic baby gift that people gave when they couldn’t think of anything more original. Wow, was I wrong. My babies adored their rattles so much, we kept them in every diaper bag, crib, Pack n Play, stroller and car seat in our possession. I’m not sure if any of them were as cute as this vintage-inspired pig rattle from Old School Acres, however. The pink piggie, found at The Baby Gardner, is beautifully handcrafted, and you could probably clip that tail with a toy clip to keep it in the...

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Ugli-er Dolls

I have a strong sense of empathy for the uglier creatures of the world. I have an English bulldog, not a lab, always thought those misfit toys from the Ruldoph movie were cooler than the non-misfit ones–even if I never was entirely sure what was wrong with that doll. So of course I fell in love with the handmade plush creatures from Cutesie Not Cutesie. These crazy one-eyed monsters and somewhat ferocious beasts are so huggable and awesomely hand-stitched and a wee bit bizarre, that I have to wonder what goes on in the head of Philly area designer...

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Make My Own Monster: No Sewing Required

In theory, I do love those make-your-own-doll kits, but even with the craftiest of kids (and moms) at the helm, they still scream “homemade” a little louder than you’re hoping for at times. (Oops…there goes Teddy’s eye.) With Make My Own Monster, a cool service from the folks from North American Bear Company, you get the best of both worlds – your kid gets to design his own monster, and someone else gets to make it for you. Purchase of one of their kits and you get a few drawing pages, coloring pencils, and a series of questionnaires to help...

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EthiDolls: Not just a Barbie with darker skin

You should know right off that I am not the biggest Barbie fan, for all of the obvious reasons. But there did come a day when my daughter’s begging got the best of me, and I went out to survey the choices. I came home with a doll we henceforth referred to as Ambiguously Ethnic Barbie. She was Hispani-afric-asian. I think. Better than platinum blond Barbie, I suppose, but still an epic failure in terms of cultural diversity. If only EthiDolls had existed back then, I could’ve proudly presented my kid with an authentically African Makeda, the Queen of...

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A Natural Teething Toy to Give Tylenol a Run For Its Money

Aside from my finger and a random corners of our furniture, the only thing that temporarily relieved my teething babes’ sore gums was a frozen wet washcloth. So leave it to a fellow mom to create a teething toy with just that very thing attached. The handmade Ringley Natural Teething Toy found at Kai Kids features a natural maple ring that fussy little ones can safely gnaw on. Add the organic cotton terry cloth and you’ve got the best of both worlds all in one teether. You’ll find two styles–knotted or straight. Either way, it’s a definite must-add to your arsenal...

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These Toys Have Feelings

Q: When is having Mixed Emotions a Good Thing?   A: When they are the super-cute kind that comes inside a Kimochi.    What is a Kimochi you ask? Kimochis are soft, cuddly, stuffed toys that come in a variety of shapes, with a surprise inside–a set of three “feelings” in the form of stuffed little guys, each one with a facial expression that’s identified by an emotion (happy, jealous, shy, grateful) on its back.    With a background in children’s therapy, I can tell you that Kimochis offer almost limitless possibilities for instructional play on the topic of...

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DJ in Da Playhouse

Generally speaking, I pry out the batteries from those loud plastic toys at first opportunity. But upon seeing the New School DJ Mixer at Ollie Bollen, the only thing I could think about digging out were my go-go boots; you know, if I could still fit my big pregnant feet in them.     Sporting six different rhythms along with a tempo control, this toy is way hipper and less annoying than half of the the mini keyboards and kid guitars out there. Aside from the two “scratch” turntables, the only thing it’s missing (and for this I thank God), is the microphone.  The...

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Ice Cream + Bubbles = Magic

I bombed Goody Bags 101 at my youngest daughter’s party. The Play-Doh bits ended up all over my couch, the babies ate the crayons, and the cheap imitation slinkies broke faster than you can say choking hazard. The one thing I did get right were the bubbles. Or as Paul Rudd said in Knocked Up, “I wish I loved anything as much as my kids love bubbles.” If you’ve got a summer birthday coming up and are lucky enough to have a few kids sticking around town for the party, you have to get your hands on the scented...

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Big Brands Doing Cool Things: Aurora’s Eco-Plush Animals

Mostly we’re fans of handmade plush around here, but we also understand that not everyone wants to spend $85 on a penguin hand-knit from recycled sweaters then hand-stuffed with locally harvested cotton (even if it is totally awesome and you would be seriously the best gifter ever). So we’re happy to see that now there’s an affordable choice for the masses that’s eco-friendly too, courtesy of Aurora’s Naturally Line. The critters are fashioned out of 100% soybean fiber and oh my God are they soft. Even the stuffing is green, a sustainable rainforest crop called Kapok. Best, they start...

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Attention Pretend K-Mart Shoppers

Pity the average supermarket shopper; we have to push around banged-up, one-wheel- jiggling, sticky-handled metal shopping carts when we do our food shopping.  If our carts looked more like the toy shopping cart from Plan Toys, I may enjoy the experience a bit more and not notice that I’m paying almost $8 for a gallon of organic milk.   I love how this sturdy cart can hold everything from my kids’ play food to their favorite stuffed toys, and has a stopper in back that keeps the cart from flipping.  They can wheel their toys down the street for...

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Eco-Friendly Rattles in Technicolor

While I’m definitely way pickier when it comes to buying rattles for my upcoming third baby, I admit that at times, the eco-friendly choices in their various shades of brown almost make me miss the bright colors of some of our retired plastic ones. So when I saw the beautiful bright rattles at Earthentree, I thought something was wrong with my computer screen. Each piece is handmade with Hale wood by Channapatna artisans in India, and lacquered using a safe traditional technique. Got kids that have graduated from the rattle stage? You’ve got to check out the amazing selection of bigger kid toys and musical instruments....

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Regifting Just Found Legitimacy

One of the best pieces of advice I got at my baby shower was to save the gift bags. Sure enough, I reused almost all of them–except that one that already looked reused enough. I’ll withhold names to protect the regifter. Mom Jennifer Paretta liked the idea of reusing gift bags so much that she created ones for that very purpose. The Friendship Gift Bag is basically a bag meets a coloring book meets wheresgeorge.com; you know, the site where you type in your dollar bill’s serial number and see where it’s been. Kids can color in one of...

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Rolling in the Dough

The smell brings me right back to childhood, but the first time I found my daughter with a wad of Play-Doh in her mouth, I wondered, “what the heck is in this stuff?” An all-natural alternative is the unscented eco-dough, made by a family in California My kids loved its creamy feel that didn’t get hard or crumbly over time; in fact, our tub of dough is still as soft as the day we got it. If you leave it out overnight, a little bit of olive oil added to the dough will bring it back to life. Original...

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Put Another Shrimp on the Barbie

With my kids loving their play kitchen (hello, best investment ever!) I’m getting a little tired of the heavy spaghetti and meatball dinners. How about a little summer fare, like this adorable BBQ Grill set found at Nico & Zoe? Almost identical to the real thing (except for the not-so-kid-friendly fire part) this adorable play set is a must-have addition to any budding chef’s kitchen. Made in Thailand using eco-friendly plantation wood and brightly colored non-toxic inks, the veggie skewers are probably almost as healthy for them to munch on as the real thing. Not that you would have kids that might...

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Doodle Do’s

My daughter is destined to be the artist of the family, no doubt about it. If she’s awake, she’s got a crayon in her hand. This is great news when we take her out to restaurants because she’s easily occupied. But it’s bad news when I forget to pack some crayons which, pretty much is always. Apple Blossom Toys, who we recently reviewed for their lovely handmade jingle balls, has just made a crayon caddy, called a Doodle Caddy, after my own heart. It’s handmade, she can customize it in any of the great fabrics you see in her shop, and best, it’s small! Like, wallet-sized small. It even includes a little pad for moms like me who forget the paper too. Which, pretty much is always....

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Dolls After Your Children’s Own Hearts. And Drawings.

We’ve found a whole lot of companies that transform your children’s art into everything from custom lamps to chic jewelry to delicate handbags. It’s so cool to us that those favorite scribbles and stick figures can have a life beyond the refrigerator door. So I am totally wowed and excited to have discovered the inspired dolls from Wooberry. The dolls themselves are absolutely charming, each one one-of-a-kind and handmade from sketches made by artist Melissa Conroy’s own child. My daughter went nuts over them when she first saw their spindly legs and awkward, welcoming smiles. And she definitely cracked...

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