Thursday, November 29, 2007

Game Review - Picco Duetto at Hazelnut Kids

Picco Duetto ($9.90) is an excellent first game. Arielle (3) and I have been playing this for the past week. The rules of this color matching game are simple. Arielle has had problems in the past with sticking to the rules when we've tried board games, but this game was doable for her.

How to play: In the easiest version, the youngest player rolls the both dice. Everyone looks at the cards, and finds the the one with the child wearing the matching colors. For instance, if the dice show pink and red, you look for the card that shows a girl with a red shirt and pink pants. The person who finds the card first, gets to keep it and the first person to keep five cards wins.

We had to change the rules a bit. Some mommies are pretty good at searching, and I wanted Arielle to win. Instead, only the person who rolled the dice could look for the card. If the color had already been rolled, that person's turn was skipped. This change allowed Arielle to win fairly most of the time.

This game offers two more variations that make it a little more challenging for older players. I wouldn't suggest this game for elementary age children, but it is perfect for the 3-5 year old crowd.

Picco Duetto is available at Hazelnut Kids. Hazelnut Kids sells safe, Earth-friendly, wooden and organic cotton toys for babies and children. They sell no plastic, no lead, no batteries, and no pthalates. Brands include Haba, Plan Toys, Holztiger, Selecta, Kathe Kruse, North Star Toys, Under the Nile, Sarah's Silks, and Anamalz.

Their logo is the super-cute Selecta Ellina snail ($6.90).

Very clever! As soon as I saw the snail, I knew that I "needed" a few as stocking stuffers. It is even cuter in real life. I have the Christmas gifts hidden in the laundry room, and occasionally, I've had to take the snails out and play with them. I'm going to need to buy a few more. They'll make an excellent and inexpensive gift for play group friends, nieces and nephews (with some play silks), and I can even see sending a few to the school gift exchange.

I also purchased the Plan Toaster ($19.90), so we could replace the Melissa and Doug toaster with the chipping paint. It is smaller than I expected, but just the right size for a play kitchen. Arielle is really enjoying pushing the button to make the toast pop - I've eaten a lot of pretend toast this week! And, I'm enjoying not having paint chips in the play room.

My final purchase was Picky the Waddling Penguin ($4.90). When my older children were small, they loved wind-up toys, but wind-ups are usually made in China out of plastic. This penguin from Plan Toys is a nice alternative.

Hazelnut Kids has a really nice selection of inexpensive stocking stuffers.

While you are browsing Hazelnut Kids, check out their page about the benefits of natural play. And, my favorite page - the safety information. Every brand sold by Hazelnut Kids is listed. For each brand, they list both staff and customer's favorite toys, the country where the toys are made, the materials used, the safety standards met, awards received, and manufacturer statements. I wish every store showed this level of concern.

In addition, Hazelnut Kids offers a loyalty program which offers points for shopping and for reviews. Be sure to sign up to get their newsletter and to enter drawings for free toys. Finally, one percent of the profits are donated to land conservancies, and a tree is planted for each item purchased. Yay! for environmental responsibility.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Toy Review: North Star Toys People Mover and Bath Boat

I am so happy to review another toy that is made in the USA. North Star Toys are made by the wonderful Long Family, who have been creating beautiful wooden toys in New Mexico since 1979. I've seen quite a few of their toys lately, and have mentioned some in my blog like Three Men in a Tub ($10.00) and the Little Rollies ($6 each).

I'm also excited that North Star Toys is a green company. They use only American hard woods and their saw dust is used to supplement compost and for chickens and wood-scraps are donated to schools for art projects or used for kindling. The toys are finished with food grade mineral oil to finish our toys. And 100 percent of electricity that runs their shop comes from wind and/or solar energy. So, aside from making high quality toys, they make toys that help preserve the Earth for the children that play with them.

North Star makes rattles and pull toys, toy telephones, rolling dinosaurs, play sets, magic wands and all sorts of vehicles. I'd been debating buying the People Mover ($24.95), but was concerned that the little people would be a choking hazard. I also had my eye on the Bath Boat ($15.95) as an alternative to plastic bath toys. This week, the Longs gave me a chance to try both these toys out.
First of all, no choking hazard. The colorful people are large enough (2 1/2 inches tall) to be mouthed safely. Surprisingly, Arielle immediately decided that the boat was hers and that Linnea could play with the People Mover. Linnea had a wonderful time. She pulled the little people out and rolled them on the floor. She tried to fit them back in. She moved the vehicle back and forth and said brmm... brmm.... I can see that at 1 year, she is just growing into the toy and will enjoy it for a long long time. It is also available with natural wood people.

Later on, Arielle took the People Mover. She had fun naming the people after family members, and she made them go on a fantastic adventure to visit giant mushrooms and unicorn palaces.

The boat was also a hit. Arielle tried it out on both a blue play silk and in a shallow tub of water. The little men sailed the sea until a giant octopus (Linnea) reached in and dumped them out. The boat floats nicely, but does absorb water and needs to air dry. When Linnea finally got her turn, she pulled the pegs out, rolled them, and tried to put them back in. Great fun for a one year old.

These toys are safe, well made (in the USA), very cute, and lots of fun. We totally recommend them. They are available at A Toy Garden, and you can still use the discount code.

Preschool Science.

We were looking at the moon on the way home last night. It was low on the horizon and fat and full and orange. I was thinking about the long ago people who had no concept that the moon was a hunk of rock orbiting the Earth, and the Earth was another hunk of rock orbiting a fiery Sun. Those people had their own explanations, and to them those explanations were the truth. No one really questioned them.

Arielle asked "Who lives on the moon?"

My husband quickly answered "Nobody lives on the moon. The Moon has no air and we can only visit..." bla bla bla.

So, I quickly interrupted, "Who do you think lives on the moon, Arielle?"

Are you are thinking "Sara, the moon IS a hunk of rock and we thought you were a scientist. What the heck's up?"?!?

What's up is that yes, I know the age of the moon. I know what it is made of. I know a few hypotheses for how the moon was formed. I know how to calculate its orbit. But, reciting facts is not going to teach Arielle to be a scientist.

If we knew the facts and no one questioned what they were told, we would still believe the moon was a shining hunk of green cheese (orange green cheese?). If I want Arielle to come up with new ideas, I have to let her figure things out for herself. We do have books that show real pictures of the moon and give facts and figures, but those can wait a while.

-"Who lives on the moon, Arielle?"

-"The Moon Mouse and the Moon Buggy."

-"Yeah? What do they like to do?"

-"They like to sing songs on the moon. They sing Moon Songs."

I think there are two things a scientist needs to be able to do. The first is to observe nature. This is easy. Plant flowers in a window box. Raise caterpillars and watch them become butterflies. Grow a garden. Watch an ant farm. Look out the window and talk about the weather and the leaves on the trees. Collect rocks. Watch a spider spin her web. Observe the moon.

Keep a notebook. Write down what you see and how it changes. Draw pictures and tape them on the fridge.

The second thing is much harder. A scientist needs to think creatively. Kids do this naturally, but unless encouraged, they lose this ability. After you make your observations, ask questions. How does a tiny seed turn into a big flower? How does a caterpillar make a cocoon? Why are the leaves on the maple changing color? Why doesn't the moon look like it did last week?

Don't give the answers right away. Let your child give the explanation. Write it down. Save it.

Then read about it. Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Visit museums. Touch a bug. Kick a leaf. Break open an acorn.

And ask again.

-"Who lives on the Moon, Arielle?"

-"Moonielle and her MoonieBird"

-"Yeah? What do they do?"

The story will change, just like it has ever since the first humans looked at the moon. One day, she'll give the same answers my husband did, but hopefully she'll be open-minded enough to keep asking questions and to keep looking for answers.

Some favorite Moon Stories and other good books
Sorry about the Amazon links - it was faster this way. And, I have one more post to do tonight. And, a birthday cake to bake.

Moon Stories

Books about caterpillars and butterflies




Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You can make a toy!

If you are like me at all, you are thinking, "No. No I cannot make a toy. It will be a disaster." You know what? You may be right, but I think that the fun is in the trying, in the journey. I lay before you the totality of my toy making journey thus far. There have been some utter failures, some triumphant moments, and some so so products. But, I am trying, and you should to. Hey, it really can't get any worse than this doll I started.

The poor dear is trying hard to be a pretty thing. Unfortunately her hair is uneven, I did not attend beauty school people, and her embroidered mouth is already holier than a church. I have not even attempted the eyes and of course there is the fact that she is just a head. Poor dear. I have not however, given up. I will re-do the hair, try and salvage the mouth, and press on. Someday.

After this sad attempt a friend inspired me to try a sock monkey. What could be easier? They seem very rustic and folk artsy to me, so I figured they would lend themselves well to my, um, special way of making things. Well, it is folksy. The artsy part is still under hot debate in my house. He is now named Chips, and though I think he is so ridiculous, my four year old adores him. To my horror he even took Chips to preschool. The kids loved him. So you see, even toys you deam a failure can be a success with our dear little munchkins.

As all this had gone so well I decided to pick up another hobby, knitting. Though I got into the knitting world to make wool covers for my youngest I have yet to finish a single piece. However...I have made a hat and three of these adorable, if I do say so myself, gnomes. The first, admittedly, was a bit obese, as I played with the pattern. A silly idea if you don't even know how to read a knitting pattern. But it was complete, and the kids loved it. I then made another, a much more true to form gnome, and he has found a home where I am sure he is being chewed on, thrown in the air, and hopefully loved. No pictures of him, so sorry! The third is pictured here, the red guy, and is my favorite so far. His hat matches a hat I made for his new toddler friend, Theo. All in all I'd say that knitting toys is fun, easy, and rewarding. It felt so nice to actually finish a knitting project.

Lastly for your viewing pleasure and maybe even inspiration, is a sock monster. My theory is that the monkey has certain standards that I had a hard time meeting. Namely, it had to look like a monkey. Now a sock monster on the other hand...well this creature looks better the stranger he is. Just my style. I may actually give him as a gift, a first for my toy sewing "creations."

Have I inspired you or scared you silly? My hope is that you see how fun and hilarious toy making can be. If you are a skilled crafter you may have already made some beautiful toys. I would love to see them. If not then comment here and let me know. Pictures are a must!

Monday, November 26, 2007

No surprise.

Simple Retro Toys May Be Better For Children Than Fancy Electronic Toys

Temple University (2007, November 26). Simple Retro Toys May Be Better For Children Than Fancy Electronic Toys. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2007, from­ /releases/2007/11/071123204938.htm

ScienceDaily (Nov. 26, 2007) — The recent recalls of various children’s toys have parents and would-be Santas leery this holiday season, but it may just be the thing to push consumers to be more creative about the toys they buy their young children.

“Old-fashioned retro toys, such as red rubber balls, simple building blocks, clay and crayons, that don’t cost so much and are usually hidden in the back shelves are usually much healthier for children than the electronic educational toys that have fancier boxes and cost $89.99,” says Temple University developmental psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek.
The overarching principle is that children are creative problem-solvers; they’re discoverers; they’re active, says Hirsh-Pasek, the Lefkowitz Professor of Psychology at Temple and co-director of the Temple University Infant Lab. “Your child gets to build his or her imagination around these simpler toys; the toys don’t command what your child does, but your child commands what the toys do.”

As Roberta Golinkoff, head of the Infant Language Project at the University of Delaware says, “Electronic educational toys boast brain development and that they are going to give your child a head start. But developmental psychologists know that it doesn’t really work this way. The toy manufacturers are playing on parents’ fears that our children will be left behind in this global marketplace.”

Golinkoff adds that “kids are not like empty vessels to be filled. If they play with toys that allow them to be explorers, they are more likely to learn important lessons about how to master their world.”

Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff, co-authors of Einstein Never Used Flashcards, offer parents the following advice, guidelines, and questions to ask themselves when choosing the proper toys for their young children:

Look for a toy that is 10 percent toy and 90 percent child -- “A lot of these toys direct the play activity of our children by talking to them, singing to them, asking them to press buttons and levers,” Hirsh-Pasek says. “But our children like to figure out what is going on by themselves. I look for a toy that doesn’t command the child, but lets the child command it.”

Toys are meant to be platforms for play -- “Toys should be props for a child’s playing, not engineering or directing the child’s play,” Golinkoff adds. “Toys must awaken the child’s imagination and uniqueness.”

How much can you do with it? -- “If it’s a toy that asks your child to supply one thing, such as fill-in-the-blank or give one right answer, it is not allowing children to express their creativity,” says Hirsh-Pasek. “I look for something that they can take apart and remake or reassemble into something different, which builds their imagination. Toys like these give your child opportunities to ‘make their own worlds.’”

Look to see if the toy promises brain growth -- “Look carefully at the pictures and promises on the box,” Hirsh-Pasek says. “If the toy is promising that your child is going to be smarter, it’s a red flag. If it is promising that your child is going to be bilingual or learn calculus by playing with it, the chances are high that this is not going to happen – even with a tremendous amount of parental intervention.”

Does the toy encourage social interaction? -- “It is fine for your child to have alone time, but it is great for them to be with others,” says Golinkoff. “I always look to see if more than one child can play with the toy at the same time because that’s when kids learn the negotiation skills they need to be successful in life.”

“This advice is not about marketing, but about what we know from 30 years of child psychology about how children learn and how they grow,” says Hirsh-Pasek. Golinkoff adds, “The irony is that the real educational toys are not the flashy gadgets and gismos with big promises, but the staples that have built creative thinkers for decades.”

Friday, November 23, 2007

Store Review -- Oompa

First of all, my apologies. It's been a hectic few days, but we had a wonderful Thanksgiving and now we're enjoying some time with family and friends. We are heading home on Sunday, and I'll be posting more then.

What I learned this week, is that this is a most wonderful toy AND I wish I had it for the very long car ride home.

Le Chateau du Dragon ($19.99) buttons up to become a castle or unfolds to be a long, fun playing surface. It has crinkles, it has a mirror, it has little beads safely secured behind netting. It even has bright red buttons that are attached so well that a baby can mouth them with no worries for MaMa. And, it is available at Oompa.

Whenever I hear the ToysRUs song, I always think that it would be a whole lot more fun to be an Oompa Kid. Oompa is the superstore of the cool toy world. They have a huge selection of high quality toys - lots of Haba, Bajo, Selecta, Kathe Kruse, and more - all the most wonderful toys from all around the world. Like the hard-to-find Pixie's World rattle ($11.99) which is going in Linnea's stocking this year.

One of my favorite things about Oompa is the toy reviews. Oompa allows parents to give their thoughts on toys they have purchased, and in return offers points towards future purchases (one also gets loyalty points for repeat purchases). The reviews are great if you are having trouble deciding on a toy, if you have questions about the age appropriateness, and for pointing out possible choking hazards or that a toy is smaller than expected.

Like us parents, Oompa is concerned about safety. Each toy description clearly states where the toy is made, and Oompa provides information about toy safety standards, safety testing and manufacturer statements.

There are many brand-name toys that are exclusive to Oompa, like this Kathe Kruse Flippippi Blossom Butterfly doll ($74.99), and this violet girly car ($8.49) that was made especially for Oompa by Bajo.

And, Oompa has individual categories for toys made in Europe and the newest Haba. I am loving Running Bunny Benny in his car ($23.99)

Because they have free shipping on all purchases over $65.00, Oompa is a great place to get large gifts like this Kettler tricycle ($99.99) without paying oversize shipping costs.

But, Oompa does not accept discount codes after November 21st, so sign up for their mailing list to learn about special offers and promotions, and to receive their catalog.

See you on Monday, and I'll let you know what works on a more than twelve hour car ride.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm leaving tomorrow to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. We have a fun twelve hour drive ahead of us, but I'll be back before Friday with a review of Oompa. Have a very happy Thanksgiving. --Sara

Toys for Toddlers - Again!

I found this list of suggested toys (by a pediatric occupational therapist) for toddlers in Parenting magazine. I stole it, but I edited and added my own embellishments and suggestions. You can use the link to access the original list.

1. Large blocks.

For stacking and for knocking over - stacking blocks helps a child learn to use both hands to complete a task and strengthens little fingers. According to the article, most 13-month-olds can put one block on top of another. At 11 months, Linnea still prefers knocking down and throwing.

This set of 21 blocks ($47.25) is made of hard Rock Maple from Michigan and Indiana. Larger sets are also available. And, Eleanor, these aren't quite sticks, but what do you think of these ($29.95)?

2. Shape sorter.

Occupational therapists often use shape sorters. When toddlers match a shape with its corresponding hole they learn cause and effect and they are "oh so proud" of themselves.

This German sorting drum ($34.95) is very basic.

This shape sorting wagon ($48.95) is a Spiel Gut award winner. Use our discount code to get free shipping.

And, a very cute option from Djeco ($35.99)

3. Large-piece puzzles.

Start with puzzles that have simple shapes like circles or squares that easily fit in easily - even in the wrong direction. Once those are mastered, move on to ones with cutout pieces or peg pieces that can only fit in one way. Puzzles teach about shape matching, as well as in and out. There are some suggestions on the Melissa and Doug post, or check these out.

"Pepito" ($19.99)

"Formina" ($29.99)

"Abre Magique" ($15.79)

4. Push toy.

Toddlers like push toys because they can move faster when they have a bit of extra support. If the toys play music or have other features, the child learns to concentrate on walking even when distracted by exciting things. Wagons let the little one walk and cart along treasures.

This wooden roller from Plan toys ($24.90) has balls inside that make a sound.

The Voila dragon is an inexpensive choice ($14.90)

The hedgehog's glasses on this German toy ($28.99) bump up when pushed. Moolka has several other options -- all adorable, but this post would go on forever.

Finally, this push car ($157.90) has room for a stuffed friend.

Make a joyful noise - rhythm instruments

Arielle received some money for her first birthday, and since she already had blocks, a ball, a truck, a doll and every other toy a one-year old could want, I decided to spend the money on rhythm instruments. Not my little brother's drum set that she is playing in the picture -- but simple, baby safe instruments.

At the time, I wasn't so worried about plastic. But, recently I had a "oh no, are they safe?" moment. So I did some research. The instruments, like this Rhythm Set ($18.20) are made by the Israeli company Halilit, and distributed by Hohner in the U.S. I contacted Halilit regarding safety. This is what they told me:

"Halilit products are made in our factory in Israel, with severe quality control standards. All of our products are made of the finest original raw materials and pigments (never recycled) and are bought from well known companies. All the pigments and materials that we use are "food approval", therefore are considered 100% safe by the FDA . All of our products are tested regularly for both ASTM (American safety standard) and EN71 (European standard) full standard . All of our products are phthalate free and do not contain lead."

A wide range of fun rhythm instruments are available in the Early Childhood section of West Music.

The Remo baby drum ($9.95) is made in the USA by a company that also makes drums for professionals. It is part of a collection of toddler instruments made by Remo and designed by Lynn Kleiner - a musician, early childhood educator, and the author of Babies Make Music. This has been a very popular toy in our house, and I may need to get another one.

Recently, I've noticed a lot of non-plastic alternatives for musical play. Palumba offers both birch and cherry rhythm sticks ($6.99 & $8.99), and A Toy Garden has a whole section of music toys ($3.95), including these owl gourd shakers from Peru.

Plan toys makes a rhythm set ($34.90), a drum ($14.99), and a xylophone ($14.99) out of chemical free Thai rubber wood.

And Sounds Like Fun offers a wooden rhythm set ($35.99) made in India (????).

Or, you could just try pots and pans, wooden spoons and bowls, empty water bottles filled with rice or beans (hot glue the cap on), ribbon bracelets with jingle bells, or two paper plates with lentils in between (staple or tape together - and always supervise!).

Whatever you have, turn on some music and play along. Play soft. Play loud. Take turns. If you have several children wear hats and have a parade. Get out the play silks and dance.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Anne Moze All Wood Toys

I first saw Anne Moze All Wood Toys on eBay where they can be hard to get. At that time, Arielle was a baby, and I remember thinking that I should look into them when she gets older. Now that she is three, Arielle has been playing with Holztiger wooden figures and enjoys them very much. Recently, I stumbled on Anne Moze's site on Hyena Cart, and I'm so glad I did.

Anne Moze started making her toys five and a half years ago, after visiting her sister in Germany. She said "We went into a wonderful toy store filled with amazing wooden toys, so subtly painted, it was the way I pictured as a child what the North Pole was about, surely this was what Santa's elves made.... it transcended me to such pleasurable heights and invoked wonderful memories, that I wanted to pick it up and bring it back home. Unfortunately, we stay at home Mom's tend to have big aspirations and small ready funds.. I could only afford a few small mementos." When she returned home, she gave the toys to her youngest daughter who loved them. Anne thought,"If Marguerite Ostheimer in a war torn and broken Germany could make toys to uplift children...well so could I."

Anne Moze's wonderful figures and play sets are carved out of Poplar wood. She uses non-toxic acrylic water-based paints that conform to ACMI (Art and Creative Materials Institute) standards as a stain, and does not try to hide the wood grain. Since there is no layering of the paints, there are no paint chips to worry about. The oil is an organic walnut oil.

Anne wrote to me "I have had many compliments on how uplifting my toys are, how much joy children get from them and best of all the love that parents say they feel when they open them up. I wrap each toy individually, each one deserves it's special moment, whether it is Mom, Dad or the little ones, it is the the first moment of unwrapping them that determines what it will become. We give toys to our children and take delight in watching them play and bring them to life. I hope my toys will extend your child's innocent years, that they can learn even something as fierce as a dragon starts as a baby, and if they nurture them gently that even a dragon will grow up to be decent and caring of others." What a great philosophy.

I quoted Anne a lot; I don't usually do that, but I feel her own words best explain the magic of her toys.

I bought the unicorns ($15) for Arielle. I love that they have 'real' tails that she can put a ribbon on. In the few days they've been here, they've done a great job as steeds for fairies and are playing very well with the other wooden figures.

I keep admiring Anne's play sets and I'm sure that after the holidays, I'll be back for more.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Woodwise Natural Toys

Arielle just walked over. "What are you doing, Mommy?"

"I'm writing about your helicopter. What do you think about it?"

She pats her helicopter, "It's being GOOD Mommy. Real good."

Arielle's helicopter comes from WoodWise Natural Toys, where the husband and wife team of Nathan and Katie Weber create wooden cars and trucks and well-behaved helicopters for babies and toddlers. The toys are affordable ($8-$20), sturdy, and good sized. Arielle's helicopter ($10) is about eight inches long and three inches tall. The rotor and wheels are very well-attached; they aren't going anywhere.

Arielle loves her helicopter (it gets to be the mommy to her smaller, North Star mini-copter). Linnea is a lot rougher on her toys, so she received my favorite product on the WoodWise site, the Funky Crown Toddler Toy ($9).

This unique shape is very easy for toddlers to grasp. The unfinished wood is very smooth and safe for mouthing. It is standing up well to Linnea's rough treatment. Despite the unusual (and cute!) shape, Linnea recognizes it as a vehicle and has been pushing it back and forth and saying brmmmm... brmmm...

The Webers also make school buses, race cars, tractors, milk vans, beetles, big semi-trucks and fire trucks. Since the WoodWise site is on Hyena Cart, you will need to register and to use PayPal for payment.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Preschool Presents

Preschoolers are the most awesome, funny, creative, frustrating, emotional people around. And the most fun to buy presents for. They love role play and make believe. Their imaginations have no limits. I know - I have one.

Right now, Arielle is wearing fairy wings and a crown and staring into a full length mirror. We just had this conversation.

"I'm a fairy." she states. "Am I a fairy?"

So, I answer "Yes."

"Then why can't I fly?"

So I explain that she's a pretend fairy and little girls don't fly. But, I'm not pretend.

Preschoolers love gifts that let them expand their imaginations and let them be creative. Here's the list.

1. Dress-up clothes

I love for finding dress-up clothes. Arielle's tutu came from Doodle Factory. This wonderful store sells tutus ($27-$32) and dinosaur tails ($20).

World of Whimm sells crowns for little princesses and kings. The beautiful crowns are $20 and won't squish or break, even if a little sister sits on them. They are very well made and will last for years.

Her Flying Horses sells cloaks ($20 and up), princess and wizard hats ($16), fairy dust ($10) and princess gowns.

There are many many other dress-up options at Etsy, just search on "dress-up". And dress-up doesn't have to be fancy. Thrift store vintage, hats and even your own old clothes can be fun for child to dress up in. And ever-versatile play silks always make great gifts.

2. Wooden figures

Arielle has adores her Holziger wooden figures. Prices range from about $4.99 to about $15.99 and unnecessary accessories can cost hundreds. Oompa has a large selection, and Rosie Hippo has even more. These figures are carved from hard wood and stained with non-toxic water-based colors. They are made in Germany. Sizes start at 1.5 inches for a mouse and go up to 7.5 inches for an elephant.

I started with some of the characters from Bear Snores On (bear, rabbit, mouse) and then randomly added others. Arielle loves to create stories with these figures and always has them out.

I recently bought a few figures from Anne Moze Toys. Anne Moze hand makes her figures in the USA and they are of comparable quality to the Holziger figures. I will be spotlighting her toys very soon.

3. Puppets

Of course! If you are a regular reader of this blog, you've heard a lot about Arielle and her puppets. Right now she treats them like small dolls. She tucks them into shoes and tea cups. As she grows she'll learn to manipulate them with her fingers and make-up stories for puppet shows.

When I told my family that Arielle wanted puppets for her third birthday, my sister said "but Rachel is getting her puppets, what if she gets too much puppets?" No such thing! Puppets are characters waiting for a story. The more characters, the more stories.

Kathe Kruse puppets are among the most beautiful I've seen.

Finger puppets are $7.95. And the whole finger puppet ensemble, theater and all is $58.95

Those are MY dream puppets. Arielle has a hodgepodge of puppets - some are handmade by mom, some are hand-me-downs from siblings, our local toy store has a big selection of puppets (mostly MIC) for $5 each and she sometimes gets one as a special treat. Hand puppets are also nice. But since they are larger, they are more expensive. Magic Cabin has Kathe Kruse hand puppets for $16.98 each. Folkmanis puppets are amazingly detailed and there's a huge variety available.

4. Art supplies

Art supplies are an awesome gift. Kids this age love drawing, so an assortment of markers, crayons and colored pencils is nice. Trying something different like highlighter pens is also fun. A pair of safety scissors won't cut hair and will make a three year old feel grown-up. Glue sticks and collage materials like feathers, buttons, confetti, plastic gems, sequins, tissue paper scraps, old magazines, colorful junk mail, stamps, cotton balls, old Christmas and birthday cards... make for a fun time. Arielle loves rubber stamps and Magic Cabin has super-cute sets of stamps for $14.99.

5. Role Play

At least once a day Arielle declares herself Mommy and I get to be Arielle. Kids this age love pretending to be grown ups and love all the props that go along with it. Even a child without a play kitchen will enjoy play foods and child size pots and pans.

I recently gave a child Palumba's Simple Strainer ($4.99) and Cute Cherries ($6.99) as a gift. She played with them for hours because the strainer was "just like Mommy's!" Oompa, Moolka, Maukilo and Three Sisters Toys all have nice selections of play food. For some reason, whisks (as in from my kitchen) are a treasured toy item in my home. This cooking set from The Wooden Wagon ($31.95) is just like mom's only smaller.

Play food can double as a prop for store play if a child has a shopping cart (see previous post) or tote bag, and a tote bag can also double as a mail pouch so the preschooler can play postman and deliver recycled junk mail.

Well... my own preschooler is getting antsy, and we have much to do. More later.