Category: Toys + Playthings

Idle Hands

My three-year-old must always be doing something with her hands – coloring, painting, or her current favorite, going through my entire jewelry box. Twice on a good day. So, when I saw these Maple Landmark Lace-A-Shapes I figured it was worth a try to save my sanity and my jewelry. Created from sustainably harvested local wood and covered in a completely non-toxic finish, your preschooler will have a heck of a good time lacing up the four different animal shapes included in this pack. Great for the car, the plane, or at home when you’ve simply exhausted all other busy work...

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Matryoshka Dolls: Hard to Spell, Easy To Love

As a wee lass, I was obsessed with a matryoshka doll my parents had brought me back from Eastern Europe. All the time spent banging those little schmata-clad wooden nesting dolls around yielded plenty of chipped paint and battered edges, turning a stunning keepsake into a well-loved but fairly sad looking plaything. A more durable option can be found in the amazing, totally handcrafted soft matryoshka dolls by artist Denise Mollison. There’s close to a dozen beautiful girls to be found on Quiet Hours Toys, each one made of cotton socks, Japanese kawaii fabric, and hand embroidery. They’re just...

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Ground Control to Major Aidan

We joke that since the lead paint recalls, that we’re all happy to let our kids play with cardboard boxes. But the reality is – kids like to play with cardboard boxes. So when is a cardboard box better than a cardboard box? When it’s actually a rocket ship. If you live in a more temperate climate, stick this sturdy, recycled paper rocket in the backyard and watch the kids go nuts. If you’re still in the tundra zone like I am, make space in a playroom or den, get out the crayons and paints, and keep the kids...

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Longing For the Days When We Wondered What the # Button Was For

I still remember my childhood fascination with our old rotary phone. I mean, they looked pretty cool and you could crush a coconut with it, although it did take way to long to dial a freaking phone number. But boy did they make really fun toddler toys. I admit a pang of nostalgia when I saw this old Fisher-Price phone from long ago. No, I wasn’t digging through consignment shops and garage sales, but perusing the pages of Warm Biscuit, a vintage kid decor shop that just so happens to carry some oldies-but-goodies. (And yep, it’s made in China, but Fisher-Price...

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Tastes Like Chicken

Okay so they say that newborns aren’t exactly ready for poultry. But when it’s this funny little MiYim pink chicken rattle spotted at Essere Organics, I suppose you could make an exception. It’s guaranteed free-range, hormone free, and 100% organic. And despite the fact that it’s probably a little undercooked judging from the rosy color, I’d say it’s safe to let your little toothless one gum it to his heart’s content. –Liz Enter code coolmom10 in the promotion box for 10% off all orders  at Essere...

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My Kingdom for a Horse

Okay so I know that most any child is imaginative enough to grab a broom or a Swiffer or even a paper towel roll, and turn it into a horsie. But if you’re like me, your heart will ache and swell and torment you until you break down and get that kid a real hobby horse. A beautiful option can be found at Craftsbury Kids, which is now selling the heirloom-quality horses from Irish toymaker and dad, Dan Hillman. These handcrafted wooden playthings are each hand painted and stained usiing only eco-friendly, plant-based paints, then signed and numbered by...

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All Natural Teddy

I tend to avoid buying friends and family plush animals as new baby gifts. I figure that like me, the last thing they need is another stuffed bear to collect dust on an already full shelf. But then, browsing online shop Petit Baby, I saw the new organic bears from French company Kaloo. And I changed my mind immediately. This classic boutique line of stuffed critters features 100% organic cotton fibers, hold the pesticides and chemicals. So aside from being incredibly soft and huggable, you can feel good about giving one to a sensitive newborn. The 100% recycled round box...

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Give Me Liberty!

I’m always on the look out for something to do with my favorite pictures, other than frame them. Custom bags, jewelry – you name it, I’ve got it. But puzzles? Not until now. While it’s easy to be mesmerized by Liberty’s unique vintage children’s puzzles with images from classic nursery rhymes, don’t stop there.  Click over to their custom page and you’ll see the masterpieces they can create with your own photos, which go well beyond some ordinary slice-and-dice grid puzzle that some of the photo sites offer. In fact Liberty does this really cool special thing in which...

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Because Not All Great Gifts Come From Santa

My son has a birthday that falls right after the biggest gift giving holiday of the year, making it a bit hard to figure out what to get him that feels "special." Considering how well he cleaned up at Christmas, it’s not easy giving the old guy in the red suit a run for his money. This simply gorgeous toy block wagon from fourth generation US toymaker John Michael Linck is a strong, strong contender. Handmade of woods like black cherry, walnut, and hickory using good old-fashioned workmanship including dovetail joinery and dowels (no nails or Krazy glue), the...

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Ballsy

Thanks to the toy recalls, I am much more concerned about where and how the toys I’m purchasing for my kids are made. But it’s not always as easy to get the backstory on your playthings as Fair Trade Sports makes it. Perhaps it doesn’t seem like having a certified fair trade soccer ball or basketball or rugby ball is such a big deal–but don’t you think a ball should make more of an impact on the child playing with than the child who is forced to hand stitch it for 4 cents an hour? Order Fair Trade Sports’...

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Good Vibrations

With my son working on teeth numbers 7 and 8, I’m desperate to find anything that will keep him chewing on something other than me. You think I’m kidding. But with all the research on the effects of some plastics out there, it’s tough to do better than a frozen bagel. I traded crumbs all over my floor for a chance to try out the JeJe Vibrating Teether from Baby Vibe (that always cracks me up), a completely safe teether that is BPA, Pthalate, and PVC-free. We found at one-stop safe baby gear shop The Soft Landing – a really...

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It’s a Bird. It’s a Train…

We’ve got our first ever two-child plane trip coming up and I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little nervous. I figure if I can pack enough fun stuff to keep the two year-old entertained, maybe I can actually suck down a cocktail and relax. On my must-pack list: The very clever First Train Sets from high-end Swedish toy company, BRIO. The cute little penguin (or dog or cat or frog or squid) may look like your ordinary plush toy, but unzip it and out comes all these miniature penguins on wheels. So it’s like two...

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The newest teething solution for babies: Mushrooms

Continually asked for safe teething toys by parents, we’re always quick to suggest Sophie Giraffe, Vulli’s European fave for decades. But now the company has transitioned from the animal kingdom to the vegetable garden, with a trio of totally cute mushroom teethers. Blue Chan, pink Pie and yellow Gnon (a play on the french word for mushroom, champignon)  might even be safer than their real world counterparts–they’re made from sustainable rubber, painted with food dyes, and free of phthalates. Also? No fungus. Which, come to think of it, is a mushroom first. Find the Chan Pie Gnon teethers at...

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Cute Bear ISO Good Home. Fingers Will Do.

All I can say about Cheryl A Smith is that she’s a nut. A crazy, creative, crafting nut. Why else would she personally number each and every sweet little finger puppet that she makes and sells? Especially considering that she’s now past the 2,000 mark. That’s a whole lot of felt. While Cheryl’s selling out fast for holiday orders, hit her shop now and you can still delight a child with a totally adorable pengin, a bunny rabbit, a vulnerable bear, and a not entirely menacing green dragon. Put them together and that’s one interesting finger puppet show you...

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Moving On From Macaroni Necklaces

My older daughter and I have finally reached the point where we can do crafts together that involve more than just dry pasta and pipe cleaners. There’s only two problems: 1) I’m lacking the creative-mom gene. 2) I’m not enthused about projects that turn into clutter. So I was really happy to try out the craft kits from mom-invented Mugwaz, which, for a change, are  actually worth keeping when the project’s done. My girl and I had a blast making matching pairs of glittering flip-flops and a skinny belt strung with hippie-chic flowers. There are even party packs, to...

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No Bells, No Whistles

When I was a kid, we didn’t have any animatronic plush animals with voice chips or virtual reality video games. We played with sticks and rocks and we liked it. Okay so maybe not so much sticks and rocks. But I do remember that Mousetrap was considered high-tech next to Clue, and that the kid with Rock ‘Em Sock Em Robots was pretty popular come 3 PM. Indeed I am enjoying this trip down playtime memory lane courtesy of Back to Basics Toys. This is your place if you want good old fashioned Nok Hockey (I never knew it...

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Dieter-in-the-Box

Spurred on by one of our favorite readers seeking a not made-in-China Jack in the Box for her daughter this holiday, we went on a mad internet quest to help a mama out. Especially considering that the category leader has had its share of recalls this year. Oh joy! Oh happy day! For our mad google skillz has lead us to the coolest Jack in the Box toys, beyond even our own expectations. These are not your classic monkey in a tin box playing Pop Goes the Weasel. They’re old fashioned (i.e. no crank), teeny at just 4", and...

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Hey Kid, Paint Your Own Toys.

With all toy recalls, everyone has been joking about making their own toys. But considering I can barely make a complete dinner, I don’t know that I can be trusted to handcraft a cool toy worthy of my picky 3-year-old. But we can most certainly paint our own toys. Like the great wooden dinos from Rosie Hippos. Made from safe solid pine, these rolling Jurassic era creatures look great as their plain old wooden selves. But add a paint brush and some color, and imagine the possibilities: A princess brontosaurus? A punk rock stegosaurus? Your kids get to decide. Plus, you’ll know exactly what...

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The Little Engine That Refused to Contain Lead Paint

In light of this year’s recall of the Ubiquitous Licensed Cartoon Character Train Set Which Shall Remain Nameless, we’ve gotten an insane number of inquiries from cautious parents looking for other options. Oh, if only there were something made from wood, in the USA, still colorful, that fit existing train tracks, and maybe with a smiley face on the engine. Tall order? Nah. We found that very thing in the Little Engine That Could wooden train set at one of our very favorite online shops, Craftsbury Kids. It’s handmade of reforested birch, and the colors are bright, inviting, and...

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When is a Box Not a Box? When It’s a Mansion

Like all parents, I’ve learned that indeed it’s true, kids are often happier playing with the package a gift comes in than the gift itself. Of course it doesn’t stop us from giving them more than cardboard boxes. Until now. The cardboard playhouse is maybe my daughter’s single favorite plaything. The very sturdy (and easily assembled) recycled construction has doors, windows, and fun little peep holes galore, and the white walls are just waiting to be the canvas for your next rainy day painting project. What you give up in glitziness, you get back in imagination. Trust me, we...

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Bring Home a Kitten for the Holidays

I am a little melancholy as I embark upon my first holiday season in close to two decades without my beloved, nasty, shedding, crazy, man-eating cat. But if the trade-off means that I can justify bringing home these Little  Dear Fatkitties from artist Aimee Ray, it might be worth it. Each one is totally handmade and one-of-a-kind, some sweet, some irreverent, some just plain bad. We spotted them at the wonderful online toy store, Bright October, which is filled with plenty of our favorite brands. We even found something new to us – the beautiful handmade wool baby balls...

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Yo. My Blocks are Cooler Than Yours.

So blocks are blocks, right? They’re wooden, you build with them, you knock them down. Blocks. Yeah, well, not the Graffiti Blocks from Rockin’ Blocks. No alternababy or rock n’ roll love child’s toy collection is complete without a set. They’re handmade in Brooklyn, NYC (where else?) and coated with non-toxic glaze; you know, just in case Granny decides to police your joint and wipe them clean. Forty bucks will get you a complete set. Bring them home before some subversive graffiti terrorist decides to tag right over them. -Kristen ...

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C’mon, Get the Kid a Pony Already

I honestly didn’t understand the appeal of stick horses until I set my two year-old loose on a toy store display filled with them. My God, you would have thought they were real ponies the way her face lit up as she mounted one and took off down an aisle towards the train sets. If the horse heads hadn’t been made of some kind of ugly molded plastic, I’d have bought one then and there. Needless to say, my horse-loving lass will be on the moon next month when she opens up her handmade stick horse from CMP favorite...

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The Real Meaning of Christmas (And Also Toys)

Here’s a story for the holidays we absolutely couldn’t resist: A couple falls in love, gets married, she’s diagnosed with cancer soon after, she survives (beautifully!) and goes on to give birth to two wonderful babies. Then they open an awesome toy shop to help spread joy to other kids, all while helping to support children’s charities. Wow.  Such is the story of Jennic and Justin Law, the owners of KangarooBoo. The shop plays host to a wonderfully curated selection of our kind of toys and gifts including CMP fave brands Haba and Vilac, as well as the always...

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A Pillow Worth Grabbing

Everyone knows that babies go nuts for tags, but not everyone loves the mass produced tag blankets made from synthetic materials. (Raising hand here.) In which case, the Grabby Taggy pillows from the wonderful shop, Nico & Zoe might be more your style. We found them under the boutique’s lovely Made in the USA section, and indeed they are. Handmade in Seattle by Nico & Zoe owner Pamela herself, they’re formed from vintage and new fabrics and backed with super soft fuzzy goodness. As far from mass as it can get, each one is absolutely one of a kind....

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Europe on $40 a Day

When I was little, I was lucky enough to go to this super cool place in Holland called Madurodam, an entire city done in miniature. You could even drop a coin into certain displays and watch a teeny wedding party enter a teeny cathedral or have a teeny boat cruise down a real teeny canal–it was absolute magic. Ever since then, I’ve loved those play sets of that recreate little European villages. We found a charming one at the Wooden Wagon, a fantastic source for beautiful wooden and folk art toys. While the 17 pieces of this miniature town...

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Pieces of 14

If your child loves puzzles as much as mine, maybe you’ve got a collection (like we do) featuring boring animals and licensed characters that really have no business being called "a collection." But puzzles based on original art, like these from Seattle-based artist and children’s book illustrator Mary Maki Rae, are worth holding onto for years to come. Hand applied images of a country boy or girl are meticulously carved from baltic birch by the artist’s "perfectionist" husband, making these puzzles sure to satisfy even the pickiest young puzzlers. And maybe, if you’re lucky, your kids will like them so...

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A Rattle With Your Baby’s Name On It

Ever since our Safer Toy Guide went live, I’m growing more and more into the idea of getting all the mass produced plastic stuff out of my baby’s hands and mouth. (Hear that, grandparents?) Wood and knit rattles were good enough for babies for decades and hopefully they’re good enough for my girl. Our latest find along those lines are the absolutely adorable, vintage looking Lil’ Sock Dollie Rattles like the one seen here from etsy shop Chickabiddy Boutique. Just $14 gets you a one-of-a-kind, locally handknit little rattle with bells safely knit right into the downy stuffing. Even...

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Click. Take a Pic.

I’m beyond tickled that my daughter has taken an interest at being behind the camera. But for now, I’m thinking the wooden version from North Star Toys is probably the safer bet than my Canon. This nearly functional camera, including a turnable focus "lens" and a button that actually clicks, is one of the many wonderful wooden toys we found at this shop. And considering this family-run business has been making safe wooden playthings since 1979, I’m willing to bet they know exactly what they’re doing. It’s a fantastic way to foster creativity in your kids. And the best...

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Logs Abe Would Approve Of. Honest.

Recently I mentioned having discovered that the beloved Lincoln Logs of my youth are now mass produced in China, and a savvy reader pointed me towards Roy Toy. Score! If you’ve got a budding Bob the builder (or Brayden or Bianca) on your hands, I can’t imagine he wouldn’t love the Roy Toy log camp sets. They were first made in Maine in the 1930s by Roy Dennison and now, two generations later, his grandson is continuing the tradition. The company continues to employ hand-cut pine logs stained with non-toxic dyes that fit together tightly and beautifully. The prices...

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