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25
May

Announcing: Spring 2017 Parents’ Choice Toy Awards

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closeup little girl with surprised face

Spring 2017 Parents’ Choice Toy Awards

We’re pleased to announce the Spring 2017 Parents’ Choice Toy Awards.

We’ve long known that it’s fun to swim like a mermaid. But who ever thought Atoms could be happy? Or a tiny robot could express a fear of heights? Or than learning to read Chinese could be game changing?

The Girls Can movement is alive and well, in science and in history. Much needed Random Acts of Kindness are top of mind for us this spring, as are portable playhouses, playing with words, smart numbers and a clever way to recycle an old smartphone.

There’s a lot of wow and plenty of wonder in this list of toys and games and puzzles.

Click here to read more, and play more to learn more.

Designed to help parents and caregivers of all achievements and backgrounds make informed decisions about which new products are right for their children, the Parents’ Choice Awards is the nation’s oldest nonprofit program created to recognize quality children’s media and toys. The Parents’ Choice Awards program honors the best material for children: books, toys, music and storytelling, magazines, mobile apps, video games, television and websites.

 

11
May

10 Ways to Build a Builder

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Grippies Builders

Ages: 1 & Up
Manufacturer: Guidecraft
Price: $39.99

This brightly colored 20 piece set is sized just right for toddlers ready to build. The chunky pieces encourage tactile exploration of textures, shapes and colors. Experimenting with the magnetic rods and balls lead to interesting discussions and constructions – from boxes to boats to balloon animals.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

Lauri Action-Stackers – Big Builder Set

Ages: 3 & Up
Manufacturer: PlayMonster
Price: $39.99

This set includes 75 Tall-Stackers Pegs, six wheels, five hexagonal connectors, 30 square connectors, eight crepe rubber tower mats, and an 11.5-inch square crepe rubber peg board with 100 holes. The cleverly designed connectors invite building from all angles. Children can use the peg boards as bases for stationary creations or use the wheels to add motion to structures and/or movement to vehicles.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

Brackitz 170 Piece Inventor Setbrackitz

Ages: 3 & Up
Manufacturer: brackitz
Price: $99.99

These easy-to-handle playful planks and connectors are appealing to the eye, the touch, and both left and right sides of the brain. The three and four way connectors work at any angle, and the motion connectors allow designs to rotate.

As children’s skills develop, their designs will become more advanced in complexity and creativity. A good investment in playful learning.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

Kids First: Robot Engineer

Ages: 3 & Up
Manufacturer: Thames & Kosmos
Price: $49.95

This set features colorful, large, and easy-to-handle pieces that even the smallest hands can easily and successfully manipulate. And, all the pieces as well as the story/instruction booklet fit neatly into a sturdy plastic bin for storage and/or travel.

There are ten robot designs and instructions included in the storybook; however, children can use the pieces to build whatever they want. This provides excellent long-term play and learning values as well as hours of imaginative and creative play.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

Wonderhood Grand Hotel – Creative Building Set

Ages: 5 & Up
Manufacturer: Wonderhood LLC
Price: $59.99

This 62-piece building and play set is comprised of twenty-four double-sided plastic panels, thirty easy-snap connectors, four elevator pieces, one staircase, two figures, and one activity journal with building tips and challenges. The challenges range from building the hotel as high as possible, to building it to ensure certain rooms are close to one another.

Adding to the product’s long-term play value, not to mention appeal, is the fact that children can use the two included figures for hours of imaginative and cooperative play as they create and act out their own stories and scenarios.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

Lux Bloxparentschoice11-1

Ages: 6 & Up
Manufacturer: Lux Blox
Price: $29.99

Printed instructions are not included – and for a very good reason. The creators of these unique blocks have designed the Lux experience for open-ended free construction by putting the blocks together without a script or set of instructions.

They are a fantastic, hands-on way to teach children about geometry and architecture while honing fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, analytical thinking, and spatial awareness – and the creativity these lessons inspire.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

KEVA Maker BOT Maze

Ages: 7 & Up
Manufacturer: MindWare
Price: $39.95

This kit offers engineers and architects a gazillion (or so) ways to plan, build and experiment with how bots move through a maze.

The two bots (they look like the head of a giant toothbrush) can be customized with the included decorative items, or left as they are. The construction elements of the kit are maze designs in the making and opportunities to put the scientific method into practice.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

Remote-Control Machines: Custom Cars

Ages: 8 & Up
Manufacturer: Thames & Kosmos
Price: $99.99

This kit contains all of the parts needed to assemble 10 different remote control cars (one at a time), a simple, front-back, left-right controller and an instruction manual which outlines experiments to test skill and simple physics.

Children with any interest in cars or in building machines will be mesmerized for hours on end building and testing model cars.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

Arckit Go Colours

Ages: 10 & Up
Manufacturer: ARCKIT
Price: $59.99

This scale model-building kit contains approximately 175 pieces that can be used to construct architectural designs. The pieces are brightly colored; each element has its own color for a visually appealing but consistent look overall. Pieces allow for curved or flat walls and a flat or 45-degree-sloped roof (with optional dormer windows).

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

Building Machines

Ages: 5 – 7 yrs.
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Hardcover Price: $17.95

Young readers who can’t get enough of construction vehicles will have plenty to keep hands and minds busy building and learning.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

28
Apr

12 Great Games for Tabletop Fun

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Cheese Stack

Ages: 3 & Up
Manufacturer: Getta1Games
Price: $16.99

Designed for little ones, this game is a fun way for preschoolers to develop hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, learn about balance and practice cooperation by stacking rippled cheese wedge shaped game pieces.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

 

 

Tell-A-Tale (Barnyard Edition)

Ages: 3 & Up
Manufacturer: Getta1Games
Price: $16.99

This cooperative story telling game includes a two piece sturdy wooden base with grooves, a double sided backdrop, 10 prop pieces, 11 character pieces, three wooden dice with pictures of people, critters and things found on a farm, and a die with action words including feed, work, and run.

The object of the game is clear: players take turns as they work together to tell the best story of all time. The game play is delightful: the roll of the dice prompts the story and the placement of the corresponding game pieces add dimension and context.  And they all played happily ever after!

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

 

 

Hervé Tullet’s ZaZaZoom

Ages: 3 & Up
Manufacturer: Chronicle Books
Price: $14.99

This imaginative mix-and-match game consists of 44 index-sized cards with black and white patterns on one side and modern colorful patterns on the other. The easy-to-understand instructions are brief primarily because the cards’ use is open-ended; children can play the games as suggested or make up their own.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

 

 

Tall Tales: The Game of Infinite Storytelling

Ages: 4 & Up
Manufacturer: SCS Direct
Price: $14.95

This wonderful game of imagination and creativity contains twenty-four story place cards, fifty small story pieces, and a story bag. Players use the cards and pieces to create their unique tall tales. The storytelling engages children and adults alike, encouraging creativity and imagination, expanding vocabulary, listening skills, and honing important social skills such as cooperative play, turn-taking, and good sportsmanship.

Additionally, there are no rules, no right or wrong “moves”, or answers. Children can instead concentrate on creating and enjoying the stories they and their playmates develop. Every game is as different as it is fun.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

 

Stratego Classic

Ages: 8 & Up
Manufacturer: PlayMonster
Price: $27.49

Who doesn’t love a classic board game that’s updated? Perhaps made even better?

That’s the question. Adults who as kids played Stratego decades ago have a chance to experience the great strategy game yet again in a slightly retailored look and play. For today’s children who never heard of it, parents can introduce it to them.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

 

 

Tapple® 10 The Flip It, Name It, Word Game!

Ages: 8 & Up
Manufacturer: USAopoly
Price: $9.95

This rapid-fire, really fun word teasing game requires think-fast skills to play.  It comes with plastic travel case, a sand timer and 80 round, double-sided cards with a large letter on one side and color-coded categories on the other for lots of opportunity for 10 variations of play.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

 

 

Imagine

Ages: 10 & Up
Manufacturer: Gamewright
Price: $14.99

There are seemingly infinite board game adaptations of the game of charades — players know a secret word or phrase and need their audience to guess the secret. This game is in this classic vein and adds a worthy contribution to the genre. Imagine players have to illustrate the secret (termed an “enigma” in the instructions) using transparent image cards; a successful guess by another player leads to a point each for the illustrator and the guesser, and the player with the highest point total at the end of the game wins it.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

 

Crazy Letters

Ages: 10 & Up
Manufacturer: MindWare
Price: $24.95

This quick-action dice-and-card word game is easy, fun and loud. And it also exercises quick thinking skills! Players draw a card and slap it down face up. The first player to figure out the jumbled letters and yell out the word wins that card. Collect 20 cards and you win the game. This is a cool brainteasing game for the whole family.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

 

 

Double Play: Word Games With A Wacky Twist

Ages: 10 & Up
Manufacturer: INversionGAMES LLC
Price: $9.99

This mind bending card game is all about making words from a 10-card hand. Each of the 56 cards displays a letter. However, each letter card can become another simply by rotating the card 180 degrees. For example, an “a” becomes an “e,” an “o” becomes a “c,” a “t” becomes an “f” and so on. Challenging, clever, appealing, and educational.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

 

Imhotep

Ages: 10 & Up
Manufacturer: Thames & Kosmos
Price: $39.95

This game, named after the master builder of ancient Egypt, is fascinating. Two to four players compete over six rounds to build pyramids, obelisks, a burial chamber, and a temple. In a turn, a player can perform one of four actions. It’s extremely well-made and beautifully decorated. A clever feature is the two-sided game board (A and B). Each side offers different game play, but the difficulty level remains the same.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

 

 

Geometry Strategy®

Ages: 12 & Up
Manufacturer: BRIGHT of Sweden
Price: $29.99

This game is an imaginative, and surprisingly fun math competition. In this abstract strategy game, each of the 2-4 players begins with a set of 10 three-dimensional plastic geometric pieces (red, black, white and gray), which are in and of themselves the first geometry lesson of this board game. Players will learn their names and what they look like: sphere, helix, cylinder, rectangle, cone, dodecahedron, prism, pyramid, tetrahedron, and hexahedron. Just playing the game, you effortlessly learn more about each of them.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

 

 

Escape Room: The Game

Ages: 16 & Up
Manufacturer: Spin Master Toys
Price: $39.99

Out of the box, this game looks pretty complicated with lots of parts, an odd contraption and many pieces-and for good reason. It’s based on the videogame versions and the real-world physical adventure games that gained popularity around 2010, in which players are physically locked in a themed room and must collect clues and solve a series of puzzles to escape within a set time limit.

This is a great multi-player and family game for teens and adults who love solving numerical and words puzzles and deciphering codes. It’s smart and a blast.

Click here for the full Parents’ Choice Awards review and click here to purchase.

 

 

18
Apr

Ways to Explore on Earth Day

By

 

Hugg-a-Planet: Earth

Ages: 9 months & Up
Manufacturer: Hugg-a-Planet
Price: $18.95

This colorful stuffed globe is covered in a soft but sturdy fabric that is patterned with a map of the earth.

Wild Cards: Backyard Birds

Ages: 6 & Up
Manufacturer: Birdcage Press
Price: $10.95

Facts and beautiful photos adorn this bird-themed deck of cards. Three options for game play.

 

Smartscope

Ages: 8 & Up
Manufacturer: Ravensburger
Price: $19.99

This microscope allows children to view magnified objects through their smart device (e.g., phone, tablet, etc.) and features two magnification levels and a removable light source.

 

 

 Nancy B’s Science Club Binoculars and Wildlife Activity Journal

Ages: 8 & Up
Manufacturer: Educational Insights
Price: $15.99

Binoculars and a journal to record their wildlife findings are included in this cute set.

 

 

TK1 Telescope & Astronomy Kit

Ages: 12 & Up
Manufacturer: Thames & Kosmos
Price: $169.95

More than just a telescope, this geared toward older kids kit comes with an informative guide that shows how telescopes work, how to use it, and suggestions on what to look for in the night sky.

 

Marco Polo Apps

Ages: 3 – 7 yrs
Developer: MarcoPolo Learning
Download Price: Starting at $1.99
Platform: iPad

Explore the Arctic, the Ocean, and learn about how Weather works with this suite of apps.

 

 

 

Meet the Insects: Village Edition

Ages: 4 & Up
Developer: NCSOFT
Download Price: $3.99
Platform: iPad

This app is a veritable encyclopedia of insects with lots of photos and videos of creepy crawlies.

 

 

Scholastic First Discovery: The Forest

Ages: 4 & Up
Developer: Scholastic
Price: $1.99

Great for younger kids, this app teaches kids about the flora and fauna contained in the forest.

 

Star Walkthumbnail_starwalk2-pic-1-big

Ages: 5 – 18 yrs.
Adapted By: Olga Shtaub
Developer: Vito Technology
Download Price: $4.99
Platform: iPad

This stunning app teaches kids about the moon, planets, and galaxies far, far away.

 

 

 

A Nest is Noisy and A Beetle is Shy

Ages: 5 – 8 yrs.
Contributor
Author: Dianna Aston
Illustrator: Sylvia Long
Company
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Hardcover Price: $16.99

Both written by Dianna Aston and beautifully illustrated by Sylvia Long, these two books show and teach kids about animals who nest and the fascinating world of beetles.

 

 

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard

Ages: 8 & Up
Author: Annette LeBlanc Cate
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Hardcover Price: $15.99
Cute illustrations and abundant bird facts make this a great starter manual for amateur birdwatchers.

 

 

 

 

Ranger Rick Magazine

Ages: 7 & Up
Publisher: National Wildlife Federation
Newsstand Price: $4.99
Subscription Price: $19.95 / 10 Issues

Each issue contains articles about animals, nature, conservation, puzzles, and word games sure to keep your nature lover busy.

 

 

 

 

Click

Ages: 3 – 6 yrs.
Publisher: Cricket Media
Newsstand Price: $6.95
Subscription Price: $33.95 / 9 Issues

Budding scientists will find plenty to think about in this dynamic, “opening windows for young minds” publication, geared to the preschool and kindergarten set.

 

 

 

Eco Kids Planet

Ages: 7 – 11 yrs.
Publisher: Eco Kids Planet Limited
Newsstand Price: $5.00
Subscription Price: $46.00 / 11 Issues

Each issue of this advertising-free publication focuses on a different biome: sample issues included the African Savannah, the African Congo Rainforest, the Eastern Himalayas, and India.

 

 

11
Apr

Girls Have Autism, Too

By

 

Image: Rowan Scherf (Photo by Sam Scherf)

Image: Rowan Scherf (Photo by Sam Scherf)

 

I’ve read a number of articles about Sesame Street’s groundbreaking introduction of Julia, a Muppet with autism.  As the mother of an incredible young woman on the autism spectrum, I think what’s most groundbreaking is that Sesame Street’s new character is a girl.

Current statistics show that of the 1 in 68 children in the US challenged by autism, boys are diagnosed five times more often than girls.  It’s not that girls don’t have autism, they do. It’s that, for a variety of reasons, girls are often misdiagnosed.

The criteria for diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder (a developmental condition marked by social and communication difficulties, repetitive/ inflexible patterns of behavior, and restricted interests/ intense fixations) are based on data derived almost entirely from studies of boys.

It can be difficult to identify girls on the spectrum. On a measure of friendship quality and empathy, research shows that girls with autism scored as high as typically developing boys of the same age – but lower than typically developing girls (Head, McGillivray, & Stokes, 2014).

Girls on the spectrum can show a much higher interest in socialization than boys, which can make them more adept socially, but also makes social exclusion (which becomes inevitable during adolescence) especially painful.

Social life does not come naturally. Girls may painstakingly study people to imitate them, developing a greater ability to hide their symptoms – yet another reason girls with autism may be hiding in plain sight.

In addition, the criteria for an autism diagnosis in girls is often masked by overlapping diagnoses. Autism and ADHD frequently occur together – and because people diagnosed with ADHD tend to have higher levels of autism traits then typical people do – girls who seem easily distracted or hyperactive may get the ADHD label, even when autism is more appropriate.

A misdiagnosis for girls on the spectrum can be particularly difficult, especially as they enter adolescence.  Meeting the “mean girls” of junior and senior high school (and trying to decipher this new behavioral code) can be incredibly painful. Moreover, puberty involves unpredictable changes (horrifying to those with autism) that include breast development, mood swings, and menstruation.

The world is more dangerous for girls with autism as they develop sexually.  Their tendency to take things literally, their social isolation, and their deep desire to connect and to belong, can make girls and women easy prey for sexual exploitation.

People with autism who do not seem interested in social life may not obsess about what they are missing – but those who want to connect socially and cannot are tormented by loneliness.  In this way, autism may be much more painful for girls – and for women.  71% of adult women with Asperger’s reported suicidal thoughts; more than 10 times higher than the general population (Cassidy, et al., 2014).

Stacy Gordon, the puppeteer who plays Julia, was quoted as saying, “As the parent of a child with autism, I wished that [Julia] had come out years before, when my own child was at the Sesame Street age,” she said.

Me too.

 

About the Author: Roberta Scherf is the parent of a young adult with autism, and the creator of MeMoves. See Roberta’s work at: www.thinkingmoves.com

Head, AM, McGillivray, JA, & Stokes, MA.  Gender differences in emotionality and sociability in children with autism spectrum disorders.  Molecular Autism.  2014; 5; 19.
Cassidy S, Bradley P, Robinson  J, Allison C, McHugh M, Baron-Cohen S. Suicidal ideation and suicide plans or attempts in adults with Asperger’s syndrome attending a specialist diagnostic clinic: a clinical cohort study, The Lancet, Volume 1, No. 2p142–147, July 2014.