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
Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.
At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.
Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"
After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?
As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.
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.