Posts Tagged ‘children’s toys’

LeapFrog Event

I’ll admit it, I love tech gadgets. My love doesn’t end at just me. Gadgets for kids are just as cool, sometimes cooler. And when they sneak in a little learning, even better. That’s probably one reason we own a number of LeapFrog products. The kids love the products and I love that they’re playing games to help their reading or math.

Recently we were invited to a LeapFrog event, giving the kids a chance to play with some of their new products. My kids could hardly contain themselves when we entered the room. The room was set-up in three areas: the infant and preschool toys, Tag reading tools, and the new Leapster Explorer.

My youngest loved LeapFrog‘s My Own Laptop (age 24 months to 4 years). She played alphabet games, helping her not only recognize the letters but also the placement on a keyboard. The laptop also has other features once you hook it up to the Internet but she was just playing with it on its own. It’s a nice compact size too, with a built-in handle making it easy to carry around.

At the reading table the kids played with the Tag and the Tag Junior. We own both of these and the kids love them (see our review on the Tag and the Tag Junior). My son and youngest daughter were interested in some of the new books, like Star Wars: Clone WarsSponge Bob and Toy Story 3.

LeapFrog makes great early education products but most of them lean toward the younger toddler/preschooler aged child. My oldest, now 8, loves the Tag system and still enjoys using it though it’s really designed to aid early readers. She loves the interactive aspect of the reading system, with games and activities built into a story. So when we saw the new Tag Map System, both my daughter and I were intrigued. This is a fold out, double-sided map that works with the Tag pen and helps kids with geography. There’s a United States map as well as a World map.

Another great learning toy coming from LeapFrog this summer is the Leapster Explorer. This looks similar to the original Leapster 2 but offers a larger screen, new titles and the ability to connect and interact within a new online world. All 3 of my kids were mesmerized by this, but especially my older two. With my kids’ increasing interest in handheld gaming devices (and they are great for road trips), it’s nice to see one that offers educational fun.

I’m looking forward to trying out some of these new LeapFrog items first hand (well, actually my kids are looking forward to it) and sharing our thoughts and reviews right here.

Lego: More than just a Toy

What do I do next?

What do I do next?

Lego is big in our home. We own a number of construction sets and buckets of free-form pieces and still we keep adding to it. Lego is a great toy that all three of my kids can play with, usually without fighting too. But my son is the real Lego king in our house.

I’m always amazed when I watch my son play with, no immerse himself in his Lego. My son is no different from most boys. He is a bundle of energy that never seems to fizzle out. It’s hard to get him to sit still, even to eat dinner. But put a Lego construction set in front of him and I have a hard time pulling him away. He can sit for hours with such concentration and follow instructions and build a complete Lego set (the record has been 3 hours so far). I’m talking a set for kids 8 and older with over 1000 pieces. He can sit on his own and follow the steps from start to finish.

And if there’s no set to build he’s full of his own creative ideas. I think it’s his love of Lego and the creative flexibility it offers that has led to his new career desire: car designer.

So yes, Lego is a great toy, but with my son it’s more than that. It’s a tool. It teaches him to focus, to follow instructions, to explore his creativity. Nothing else seems to do that, not school, no even me. So anything that helps can’t be all that bad.

Today’s Parent photo shoot

Some of you may know that my family has been working with Today’s Parent for a few years now as one of their toy testing families. It’s been an amazing job and I say job because it is work. If you’re interested, I wrote a blog post about what’s involved with testing toys. Maybe you want to apply to be a toy testing family too.

Well testing for this year has come to an end but the final list of toys wouldn’t be published until the November issue of Today’s Parent (don’t worry, when it gets closer I’ll be reminding you to pick it up).

But this year we had a surprise request. Along with the list of top toy picks the magazine wants to include some information on the toy testing process and they asked if they could take pictures of me and the kids ‘testing’ the toys (it’s to accompany an article they’ve asked me to write).

So yesterday was photo day. If you’ve been following me on twitter, you’ll recall a few tweets about trying to clean (and keep clean) my house this week until the photo shoot. That’s a task in itself with three kids at home. It almost got to the point where the kids weren’t allowed downstairs and then I realized I had to feed them. But we made it, house and kids intact.

The photographer arrived at 2 p.m. and scoped out the main floor of the house for the best lighting. That gave the kids time to change (turns out not many people in Canada wear shorts in November so they couldn’t be in shorts for the photo). Into the fall back to school close they went.

The kids were so excited, they were hyper and all talking at once but the photographer was great (it helps that he has a three year old son). We took pictures playing with toys at the table in the dining room. The photographer even took some crazy face pictures to let the kids get it out of their system. Then we moved into the living room to use toys there. After a short meltdown from my son we took a quick snack break while the photographer scoped outside.

Pay no attention to the man behind the camera

Pay no attention to the man behind the camera

We moved outside for a few group shots (with fall jackets on of course). I’m not a hot person but I was starting to sweat in the sun. After two-hours the shoot was over. Funny a million shots and you know they’re only going to pick one. There may have been a few small incidences where I had to speak to my kids about behaviour, but all said and done they were amazing, especially about listening to the photographer. And the photographer was very patient.

Overall it was a great experience. We usually look forward to the November Toy Issue of Today’s Parent to see what toys made the list, if any of them were our favourites and if the kids were quoted. But this year we have even more to look forward to. Can’t wait!

Review: JumpStart Pet Rescue on the Wii

LogoWe were all very excited when the JumpStart Pet Rescuegame for the Wii arrived at our door not too long ago. See our family is big on using technology to enhance learning (and we’re big gaming fans too). Knowledge Adventure produces some of the best educational software we’ve come across. We’ve used their JumpStart learning software in the past and more recently we’ve been exploring the JumpStart 3D Virtual World, Knowledge Adventure’snew secure online environment for kids. I wrote a review on our experience with theJumpStart 3D Virtual World if you want to learn more.

Educational fun on the Wii

But now Knowledge Adventure has taken the next step. They’ve combined their understanding and knowledge of children’s educational software with the fun interactivity of the Wii gaming system.

JumpStart version of the Mii

The Wii game, JumpStart Pet Rescue, is modeled after Adventure Land in the JumpStart 3D Virtual World. Kids can customize their own jumpee, JumpStart’s version of a Mii, which represents the child throughout the game. And this character can be designed and changed and redesigned countless times, depending on the mood of your child. My oldest daughter (7) enjoyed this aspect of the game almost as much as the game itself. And there are three player slots so you can create three separate jumpees and games or in my case, each of my three kids has their own. This enables each child to progress through the game at their own pace, picking up where they left off the last time (though only one person can play at a time).

There are two ways you can experience the game:

Story Mode

My five year old son loves playing in Story Mode which works great for him since he’s very task oriented. Story Mode is set-up like a mission, which completely peaked my son’s interest. All the pet’s in JumpStart land have run away and my son needed to help find them. My son was told if he found all the sections of a story and then read it, one of the missing pets would return. And to find the missing story sections, he needed to complete some tasks. And so my son’s mission began.

JumpStart knows how to make learning not seem like learning. The tasks are a combination of fun experiences and learning games. In some cases my son just needed to follow a trail of letters from point A to B and other times he was asked to complete a game like matching or placing items in the correct order. Throughout the JumpStart world there are friendly creatures to greet, provide help and encouragement. When my son collected all the pages in one of his stories he was able to read it (or in his case, have it read to him) in the library. And to his great surprise and excitement one of the friends returned.

Explore Mode

My seven year old daughter enjoyed explore mode. She still needed to find the missing animals, but unlike Story Mode, she was given free reign to explore all the environments in the JumpStartworld (in Story Mode, each world becomes available as a level is completed). My daughter enjoyed discovering hidden slides and games. But her favourite part was adopting a pet for her Jumpee. She would spend time playing with her new pet, teaching it tricks, feeding it and washing it. Even when my son was playing in Story Mode, he could still wander around and explore on his own (his favourite being the slides, which he would get his Jumpee to ride on over and over again).

As a task is completed, whether in story mode or explore mode, kids are awarded with praise as well as virtual prizes. Items like music can be played in the jukebox and letter objects can be used to decorate the JumpStart world.

Playing with the Wii-mote

My kids are pretty familiar with playing games on the Wii(I did say we are a gaming family didn’t I) therefore it didn’t take them long to get the feel of how to use the Wii-mote. The cursor on screen is nice and big, making it easier to see and move for young kids. There were some odd navigation placements where the large cursor caused a few problems (like when selecting a shampoo from the Pet Parlor, the arrows at the bottom of the shampoo menu were pretty close to the ‘Exit’ button. A few times the kids ended up exiting the screen when they were trying to select the next shampoo page). The game didn’t use the Wii-mote interactivity I like from other games. I sort of expected to be able to shake the remote around to put shampoo on the pet, but instead had to hit the ‘A’ button each time to get shampoo out. This didn’t take away from the game, but I don’t think it used the Wii to it’s full potential.

If your child hasn’t played with a Wiibefore, it does take some getting use to, especially how to point the Wii-mote at the sensor bar so it registers on the screen. My two older kids (5 & 7) were pros, but my youngest (2) had a lot of difficulty. I think this skill comes with practice.

A Wii game designed for the younger set

I mentioned earlier we’re big gaming fans, but most of the games we’ve encountered have been for older kids, either due to content or playability. The JumpStart Pet Rescue game for the Wii has been rated Early Childhood (EC) by the Entertainment Software Rating Board which means ‘it contains no material parents would find inappropriate’. Want more information on the rating system? And all three of my kids love this game (even my two year old who plays with her big sister’s help). This is the first game my kids ask to play when given the chance. My son said ‘I love this game almost as much as my Star Wars Lego Wii. And for a learning game I think that says a lot.

What the kids have to say

Coming soon

The JumpStart Pet RescueWiigame will in stores in September, just in time for back to school learning. You’ll be able to pick it up at Walmart, Staples, Best Buy, Sam’s Club, Fry’s and other retailers in US and Canada.

Availability:Walmart & Staples (September 1), Best Buy, Sam’s Club, Fry’s and other retailers (September 2)
Age: 3 to 6
Price: $39.99 US
Platform:Nintendo Wii

WIN WIN WIN WIN

Knowledge Adventure is running a contest and giving away twenty-five (25) copies of the JumpStart Pet Rescue Wii game (open to US residents only). All you need to do is jump over to their blog and leave a comment telling them how you convinced your child to do something that was good for them, even if they didn’t want to.

For the Love of Stuffies

So this post occurred to me this morning at 4:30 a.m. Not because I’m a dedicated writer and lay awake all night thinking of new blog topics. Hardly. I had a visit from my 4 year old son asking me to help him find Desmond (Desmond is the name of his well worn, well loved stuffy).

Gerome, Desmond and Finnegan

Gerome, Desmond and Finnegan

I knew, even before my first child was born, how important having a stuffy would be. But I didn’t want my kids to grow attached to a sock or old T-shirt. When I was pregnant with my first child I visited Winner’s down the street and bought not one, not two, but five stuffies for my soon to arrive baby (see I had heard those horrible stories of screaming kids when a stuffy was lost and I wanted to avoid that).

Even with all that, my oldest daughter lost her precious Gerome on a walk back from the park. At home I pulled out one of the reserve Geromes, but he looked a little too new to stand in for the lost fellow. I cut off the tip of his tail with scissors and pulled him and stepped on him with my outdoor shoes. When I gave him to my daughter she hesitated to take him. When she did, the first thing she did was smell him ‘He doesn’t smell like Gerome‘. I told her I had washed him and she seemed to buy it.

When my son came along, I bought three of his stuffies. Then on a road trip we misplaced one in the hotel room and had to hear about it all the way home (the back-ups were at home).

My youngest daughter also has a set of stuffies. We haven’t had the need to reach in the reserve pile yet (knock on wood). But it was a horrible experience when she found out I was washing Finnegan (her stuffed rabbit). She cried the whole time watching him spin around and around and around in the washing machine.

I understand and appreciate a child’s need to have a stuffy. Ours have helped the kids through scraps, first days of school, moving to the big bed, fighting the shadows in the night. And although I am looking forward to not having to hunt around the house to find one of them before bed, or worse yet, being woken in the middle of the night because someone has misplaced their stuffy under their blankets, I think secretly I will be a little sad when the day comes that the stuffies sit, alone on the bed.