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First let me start by saying that this post is not sponsored by anyone. I am so far from being big enough or influential enough to be sponsored, you can’t even see it from here. I believe this entitles me to say that I have moral high ground and am philosophically opposed to polluting the purity of intention of my blog by crass commercial considerations. Of course, what I really mean is, “I’m too small to be sponsored, but there’s still some stuff we like.”

So here’s some background information. I have two boys, age six (Grey) and three (Thane). The six year old boy is a reader. The entire family loves games and books. And like most American families, we try to limit the amount of “screen time” (with varying success) and have more real life play time. Of course, like most American families we find this leads to squabbling and fighting, but hey. You can’t make an omelet without breaking any eggs…

And here are some things we like:

1) Busy Ball Bopper

Busy Ball Bopper

Busy Ball Bopper

We’ve had ours since Grey was a year old. I personally cannot believe that through some miracle, we still also have all five original balls that came with it – that’s just a little unreal. But this is probably the only toy that’s been in constant rotation for five years. Every kid who comes to our house – chances are – ends up playing with it. And even my oh-so-sophisticated Kindergartener can still sometimes be found setting and off and playing with it. If you’re a grandparent or aunt/uncle and need just one toy in your house for a wide variety of periodically visiting children, I highly recommend this one.

Scores
Parents: B- : needs batteries, makes noise and relatively large
6 year old: B+ : Not endless fun, but experiments with air pressure add interest
3 year old: A- : Chasing balls around is fun. Also seeing if your car can go through.
1 year old: A+ : Best. Toy. Ever.

2) Imaginets

Imaginets

Imaginets

These were one of those toys I bought because parents must try to give their children creative and educational toys. For their part, children try to only play with toys that come from fast food meals and/or have strong marketing tie ins. My children must have overestimated the marketing budget for this toy, because they love it and they play with it all the time. Basically, it’s a set of colorful magnets in different shapes. We did 17 layers of magnetic paint on our wall, but it was still insufficient for the heavy ‘fridge magnetic toys. But it turns out perfectly for these lighter wooden shapes. The kit comes with a metal box for the magnets, so you can play “on the go”. It also comes with a bunch of patterns for kids to use. My children disdained the patterns, and have crafted their own numerous fantastic creations. In fact, my only complaint with this toy is that the boys whine when their brother destroys their latest amazing design.

It’s creative, quiet, colorful, collaborative, quasi-educational, compelling and non-messy. This toy gets my highest marks. I’m not sure it would work quite as well if you didn’t have, you know, a central wall right in the action with great exposure, but it’s definitely worth the attempt.

Scores
Parents: A+ : quiet, creative and absorbing
6 year old: A : Grey is the one who plays the most with this. He like both abstract and concrete “sculptures”
3 year old: B : I thought the patterns were too advanced for Thane, but the other day he made quite a credible happy face. He may not have the fine motor skills to draw representationally, but he can make pictures with these shapes.

Another sculpture

Another sculpture

3) Captain Raptor

Captain Raptor

Is this the end for Captain Raptor?

I periodically get compliments from people on the books that are part of every present I give to kids. Once or twice people have asked me, “How do you find such great books?!” The answer is that I go to the library. We get about 20 books a fortnight. 18 of them are no better than ok. (And in the case of the freaking Scooby Doo readers… well, the less said about those the better…) And then one or two of them will be really good. About once every one or two months I uncover a new favorite. That’s how I discovered Captain Raptor.

Captain Raptor is freaking amazing. Basically: dinosaur astronauts in a pulp comic genre. Every third page ends with the line, “Is this the end for Captain Raptor?” I LOVE this book. There are a few more in the series that I haven’t bought yet because I’m savoring them. If you know an adventure-loving, space-loving, dino-loving kid from age 2 to 10, you should get them one of these books because they are that awesome. Alternately, if you know a parent who might consider illiteracy not really so awful after all due to having to read “Scooby Doo and the Shiny Spooky Knights” every single night for the last two years, do them a favor and give them some alternate ammunition.

Scores
Parents: A+ : Fun to read, no uncomfortable subtext, great illustrations, get to say “Is this the end for Captain Raptor” repeatedly.
6 year old: B+ : Grey still likes picture books, but doesn’t get the in-jokes. He’s not the dino/space fanatic his brother is, so while he likes this book, he’s not as enamored with it as I am.
3 year old: A : Loves the dinosaurs. Loves space. Thinks it’s incredibly silly when humans are referred to as aliens. Only prevented from reaching an A+ because it’s not Scooby Doo.

4) Scooby Doo

Scooby Doo

Scooby Doo

So Thane is obsessed with Scooby. His complete absorption in all things Mystery Inc. has not abated one whit, to my surprise. He wanders around pulling masks off people and saying, “Let’s see who it really is!” But for all my Scooby-fatigue, I think I could have done a lot worse in the obsession department. Even after wearing out several DVDs of Scooby, I still find it pretty funny when I’m in the room. It leads to fun and un-objectionable role-playing on the part of Thane. It doesn’t have the fast cuts which have been shown to not help concentration of kids. And hey, the music is actually pretty good. (You remember those chase montages?)

Scores
Parents: B : Not bad source material (as long as you avoid the atrocious “13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo”), enough stuff in the genre to spread out and be able to buy tie in materials, just a little wearying after the first 6 months.
6 year old: B : Grey prefers variety, so he gets annoyed when all his brother ever wants to watch is Scooby. Still, I think he suffers less than he would if his strong-willed sibling was obsessed with, say, Barney.
3 year old: A++++ : There is nothing in this world better than Scooby Doo.

5) Zingo

Zingo!

Zingo!

Playing games is part of what we do as a family. Adam and I play board or role-playing games one or two nights a week every week. Grey, now that he’s a reader, can play a relatively wide variety of games. But finding a game that all four of us can play – non-reader to experienced player – that does NOT make the adults want to gouge out their eyes or that is incredibly tedious to set up is a challenge. Zingo meets this challenge. There are cards with simple words and pictures (actually a language acquisition opportunity, since the bored parent can start pointing out the phonics of the cards to the kids). There’s a very simple mechanic for revealing the tokens. There’s no turn-taking for the impatient children. And the game is well-balanced so no one runs away with all the honors too quickly. It’s also got a mechanic that makes it easier for a grownup to throw the game (first person to call the card gets it… so you just have to be slightly slower than your three year old). This is the first game we’ve been able to play – all four of us – sitting around our kitchen table. That’s a pretty cool thing.


So how about you? Have you experienced any of the wonders listed above? What are some of the popular toys/games/books in your family? Do you have recommendations?

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