One of the great things about being a kid is having the time and imagination to build your own little world. With no raw materials at all, kids will at a certain age start playing "house"; throw in some canned goods and they play "store"; a book and a chalkboard and it's "school." With a few special props, there are even more worlds to create.
Start with shelter. A blank-slate cardboard playhouse (from Chasing Fireflies, $68) has a classic profile, and decorating is left entirely to the occupant. With crayons, markers or paint, kids can customize endlessly and engage in the time-honored suburban tradition of redecorating. The chimney can also be switched out for a cupola, to play school. Less expensive is the Makedo Find & Make Playhouse kit ($25), which, however, depends on you finding a monster-size box to start with.
Next, something to eat. Make it in the All-in-One Play Kitchen (GuideCraft, about $200) with fridge, range, microwave, sink - and, with an added note of reality, a dishwasher. As with real kitchens, there is not enough counter space.
There are many, many versions of toy food out there for kids to play-cook imaginary lunch and dinner, but Melissa and Doug's felt version ($20 for a 33-piece sandwich set) is a good one. We also love the sandwich shop set from Green Toys ($16), which allows a mix-and-match assemblage of a burger and a sandwich, with accompanying veggies. It comes with a sandwich shop order form that will let the kitchen double as a spot to play "hipster deli."
To that end, throw in some fine, "Dream of the '90s"-style fake facial hair. A set of "stylish mustaches" are to be had, as is a beefy inflatable beard (at Capitol Kids, $6). Next thing you know, they'll be pickling something.
There are homeowners who focus on the kitchen, and those who focus on the workshop. Those creatively inclined will appreciate the Red Toolbox that holds a set of six real, usable tools made for a child ($50). Further kits are available to create household projects that make the place more livable, like a birdfeeder or a basketball hoop.
Decorating the interior can be done with an extra-personal touch with Paint Your Own Lantern kits (from 4M, $13.25), which are based on stylish mid-century modern orbs but are infinitely personalizable.
The kids' own Etsy shop will not be far off after they start making beads with 4M's recycled paper bead kit ($10) or a Rainbow Loom Bracelet Making Kit ($15).
After artsy work, kick back with a pint-sized cowboy guitar (Schylling, $25) for mangling a few folk songs. Or snuggle up for a good read. In the vein of classic fairy tales and woodland quests is Colin Meloy's fey novel Wildwood ($9) and its new sequel, Under Wildwood ($17), set in a mythical woods outside Portland and good for reading aloud or new readers (recommended for ages 8 and up). Meloy, of the Decemberists, reads the audio CD ($38) of the latest installment himself, with characteristic aplomb.
And what home is complete without a pet? Melissa and Doug's supersized stuffed dogs come in a surprising variety of breeds, all looking pretty realistic - basset hound, black Lab, Jack Russell, husky - how to choose ($20-$60)? No need to get the Portuguese Water Dog (though there is one!); they're all hypoallergenic.
After lunch and various improvement projects, and certainly after the acquisition of a dog, all homes need a bit of a tidy-up. Will play broom sets (Schylling, $11) make cleanup fun? Well, at least you're trying to instill good habits.
Speaking of reality intruding, no play reality is complete today without a child-specific smartphone (Smooth Touch, $17; needs three AAA batteries), with modes that help build motor and language skills.
Once equipped with a phone, the kids'll need wheels. The younger ones can scoot around the neighborhood on a Wheelybug ($50) - safe, sit-on wheeled animals that come in tiger, bee, cow, pig, ladybug and mouse models for pre-toddlers and early walkers.
Once they're a little more adept with motor skills, have them hop in a futuristic-looking PlasmaCar ($70), which needs no batteries and has no finicky gears or electrical parts, but instead runs on other physical forces: inertia, centrifugal force and friction. If you can bend down that low, you can take it for a spin as well.
For kids who've graduated to real trikes or bikes (or any bicyclist in your life, actually), wrap the bike's frame with BikeGlow. It's a 10-foot long stretch of lit wire ($25, requires two AA batteries) flexible enough to wrap around parts of the bike, much in the way that rope Christmas lights are wrapped around trees this time of year. Safe, cool and festive.
Toys were spied at Capitol Kids, Playthings-Hilldale, Whoops And Co., Learning Express-West Towne, and online and most are widely available.comments powered by Disqus
This post will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging. There is no question I completely enjoyed my break from the kids. But my biggest discovery this past weekend was that it was the kids, perhaps, who needed a break even more.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.
My 11th-grade and 8th-grade sons have heard "the chant" for years. You know which one I'm talking about -- the ESFY (U?) chant (I'm not sure what the parenting post rules are for writing two of the more forbidden four-letter words in the English language) that appears to have both Barry Alvarez and Chancellor Blank quite concerned.
There are many different criteria parents use when evaluating which pre-school programs will be right for their children. Some parents might be looking for an educational philosophy that stresses creativity and community. Others may desire an option that revolves around learning through play or is more academic in approach.
We spent hours poring over name books and checking for inappropriate initial combinations. We looked at meanings, variant spellings and popularity charts. And, as I am sure every parent does, we thought we'd hit the name jackpot with each of our kids. But there are always surprises.
A generation or two ago, the pediatrician was the guy (yes, they were mostly guys) who gave your kids shots and prescribed big bottles of antibiotics for every sniffle. Madison's Dipesh Navsaria is a different breed of pediatrician.
Gamehole Con will be the premier tabletop gaming convention in the region. And with Wisconsin being the birthplace of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the nation's leader in gaming stores per capita, it kind of makes sense that the convention's organizers want the Dairy State to be known for more than just cheese, beer and bratwurst.
This year I will also try to ease up some of my previous costume concerns. Sure, the world is rife with inappropriate dress up choices for our kids; there is no parent out there that is keen on his or her child dressing like a pint-sized prostitute, even for one night.
This past Saturday, I took my youngest to hear Caldecott award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes read from his latest work, The Year of Billy Miller, a short novel for the early elementary grades.
I was greeted at the door by Tom Moen, who has served as executive director of what he likes to call "Madison's best kept secret", for the past 39 of the center's 47 years. Located in the middle of the subsidized Truax Park apartment complex, EMCC, with its vast array of offerings for kids, seniors and everyone in between, is unquestionably the heart of the neighborhood.
Madison's Kashmira Sheth has written four award-winning novels for middle grade and teen readers, and a popular chapter book for six- to nine-year-olds, but right now her picture books are what she's excited to talk about.
A few summers back, my daughter, maybe 8 or 9 at the time, decided to take part in our swimming pool's annual water ballet show. I'm not really sure what initially piqued her interest in the somewhat under-the-radar, very much under-the-water sport of synchronized swimming.
We rarely included a stop at the Central Library as part of our regular outing. For those of you who've been in Madison for a while, I'm sure you'd agree that the old building was pretty run down. Not to mention, dark, cavernous and depressing. Libraries, at their best, should be portals to discovery, right?
My eleven-year-old daughter spent most of last weekend alone in her room, door shut. It wasn't a temper tantrum or an overwhelming need for tween privacy that led to her self-induced isolation, though. Instead, I didn't see her (except for meals) for two days because she was, in her words, "going through her closet."
Yes, the 2004 classic comedy Mean Girls is an absolutely delightful movie. But it's definitely not the smartest mother/daughter viewing as your child is about to enter her inaugural year of middle school.
Despite celebrating 30 years in business this year, Knowledge Unlimited Inc. remains relatively unknown in the community. Those concerned with closing the achievement gap in Madison's schools, however, may want to take note. This award-winning educational-materials producer, based in Middleton, is unique in emphasizing multiculturalism throughout its lines of educational posters, DVDs and children's books.