If the theme for this year's holiday giving for many families will be "make do," then there's one company that definitely has a leg up. Makedo sells kits with a variety of reusable nylon fasteners and hinges (and a plastic cutter called a safe saw) that encourage kids to transform cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, packaging or anything discarded into feats of imagination, from robots to dollhouses to cars to full-size playhouses.
Available in open-ended free-play or project-specific versions (about $15), Makedo's projects will satisfy little homebodies wanting to make dollhouse after dollhouse or any nascent speedster who wants to make a series of jalopies. But a look at Makedo's "gallery" pages on its website shows that dollhouses are just the beginning. Do you need a kit to make play structures out of discarded boxes and cups? Probably, literally, no, but there are limits to what duct tape can accomplish, and the safe and reusable fasteners come in handy. Some kits come with stickers to decorate the final product. Cup Critters are the latest from Makedo - eco-friendly toys born from your daily caffeine habit.
The Box Robot from 4M ($10.50) shares a similar waste-not philosophy; this make-your-own-robot kit utilizes the box it comes in as the body of the robot. Inside are the guts of the little science project - motor, wires, axle and so forth - that will make your personal R2D2 go mobile.
The Walking Robot pencil sharpener from Kikkerland ($9.25) is also mobile, but it provides less of a teachable moment, as it doesn't need to be put together. It does, however, accomplish a task, as a proper robot should. Stick a pencil in it to not only sharpen the pencil, but power Robby up so he can walk.
Legos may be the best known, but they do not have the monopoly on the small-pieces-of-plastic-that-connect-to-make-things corner of the toy market. There are countless entries in the connector field, and from the point of view of the person who cleans the play area, those that feature larger pieces (e.g. Magna Tiles) may be preferable over the smaller (e.g. Pixel Blocks). Zoob, by Infinitoy, falls on the smaller end of the spectrum, but the pieces, when snapped together, have joints so the object that's made can move: bikes, birds, balls…indescribable creations. (Available in kits varying by number of pieces; the set of 250 costs about $50.)
On the very-much-larger end of the spectrum is Fortamajig ($55), a 21st-century take on the fort-made-out-of-a-blanket. Why not just make a fort out of a blanket? Well, remember how the fort would always fall apart because it was heavy and awkwardly tucked into a drawer and held onto the bed with a clothespin? Fortamajig is more like a real tent, although one that can be configured multiple ways, with a door and a window and a series of elastic loops for fastening to stable objects as a frame. It's perfect for when the kids want to play "Occupy" in the den. Fortamajig Connectables are a variation on the same idea, a series of square panels that connect with fabric tabs ($70).
Whether it's a cardboard box playhouse or a fantasy fort tent, once kids have their own pads, they need their own set of wheels. Simple and not too intimidating is the Skuut ($70-$100), a wooden balance bike for kids 2-5 that splits the difference between a scooter and a two-wheeler, jettisoning the tricycle altogether. It's meant to enhance balance, steering and coordination skills better than a trike or training wheels.
>The other thing kids like to do independently is learn to bake. Witness the survival, after all these years, of the Easy-Bake Oven. The expensive refill mixes have long been a thorn in parents' sides, but scads of Internet sites publish scaled-down versions of from-scratch recipes that can be cooked with a light bulb. Now the problem is the doomed-to-be-obsolete incandescent light bulb.
Hasbro jettisoned the incandescent this year and introduced a new Easy-Bake "Ultimate" version, but at almost triple the cost of the original. Better to buy one of the raft of mini-cupcake makers, fashioned on the lines of the George Foreman grill, which are much less expensive yet still safe for kids. Babycakes, Smart Planet, Bella Cucina and Sunbeam are all in on the act ($20-$30); mini-doughnuts, mini-cake pops and mini-whoopie pies all have their own gadgets, too.
A trial run for the younger set can be found with the CakeDoodle app (99 cents, for iPhone and iPad) that virtually walks kids through the process of mixing flour and sugar, cracking the eggs, adding vanilla and so forth, stirring the batter and pouring it into the pan. From then on, it's all about the decorating, with a rainbow of frostings, a garden of rosette tips and a zoo full of topper figures to festoon the cake with. It's probably a good thing these cakes can't actually be eaten.
The Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker, a.k.a. the ice cream ball ($25), is another fun way for kids to make actual food that they may believe only comes out of a carton. In addition to your ice cream base, you'll just need ice, rock salt and some eager eaters to toss the ball back and forth for 15 minutes.
While the family is kicking back with ice cream and mini-cakes, pull out Rory's Story Cubes ($9), an imaginative story-generating game played with nine dice emblazoned with 54 different images. These are the starting point for tales and games that can aid in speaking and listening skills, creativity and problem solving.
Because half the fun of eating is talking with your mouth full.comments powered by Disqus
All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.
The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.
Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.
As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.
For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.
The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.
Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.
If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.
There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.
My passion for the talent show clearly runs deep, but I'm more than just a fangirl. This year marked my second as one of the "Ziegfelds" of the Follies, Hamilton's annual showcase for singers, musicians, dancers and other varied forms of entertainment. Trust me, when you are part of the spectacle's "producing/directing" team you get a new-found appreciation for how hard the kids worked to get up on stage.
My daughter, who turned twelve just this past week, is not legally "of age" when it comes to social media. But I guess, in many respects, especially in those that involve screens, I am a permissive pushover. I've allowed her join some networks.
What adults love about camping -- sleeping under the stars, getting away from it all, the sounds of nature -- can be scary for children. It's dark in a tent. Nothing is familiar. Of course, camping with kids is more work for adults, too. Stay cool, live in the moment. Forget about that lost fork. Making s'mores, spotting wildlife, that's what kids will remember.
I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.
This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition.
It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.
I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.
Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.
If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.
I know, in the grand scheme of things, that my kid issues, when it comes to dining out, absolutely pale in comparison to those of parents whose kids have special needs. Many kids, especially those who are on the autism spectrum, are disturbed by changes in their routine, or anxious around noisy places. They may not be able tolerate waiting for a table or standing in line. So unfortunately, many of these families just avoid eating out at restaurants altogether.