Saturday, November 29, 2008

What does an all natural doll need?

Not a plastic bottle full of a mysteriously glowing orange liquid, so I was very excited to find these.

Baby Bottle from Erzi ($4.39)

These German-made wooden bottles are a little over 3 inches tall and just right for little mommies and daddies to give to their favorite dolls or bears.

One problem is that the top can come off. Out of six bottles, this has only happened with one, and that was after a visiting child tossed all the bottles into a wagon. It was easily fixed with a drop of hot glue. But, for this reason they may not be appropriate for children who still put toys in their mouths.

The bottle is also available as part of the Baby's Meal Set ($38.99), which also includes a cup, plate, spoon, baby food jar, and an electric kettle with a cord and switch.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Doll House Stacker from A Toy Garden

If you don't have a lot of room, or if you aren't sure that you are ready to invest in a big doll house, this Doll House Stacker ($59.95) is a nice option. Stacked together, the house measures 7"x8" and stores compactly on a shelf or toy bin. But when it come apart, it makes a wonderful home for fairies, puppets or small dolls.

The wooden pieces are made in Bosnia-Herzegovina and colored with natural stains. Some of them - chairs, couch, table, beds - are easily identifiable. Other pieces are more abstract and open-ended. With some imagination, they can be used in a variety of ways. Linnea likes to turn pieces upside down and stack them to make a doll playground. Arielle uses the stacker with puppets, animals, small dolls and fairies. It's the perfect size for a travel toy, and a nice way to keep little girls busy in a small space. In warm weather, it can even be used outdoors to entice fairies who prefer a more natural habitat.

Arielle and Linnea had a wonderful time making a home for their very big sister's old dolls.

If you are looking for a stacking toy, then I'd suggest something more like the Dwarves Stacking House ($44.95), Rainbow Arches ($34.95, $79.95), or Four Tower Stacker ($29.95). While a wonderful wooden toy, this is more like a three-dimensional puzzle than a stacker. It poses a challenge even (or especially) for adults. I ended up taping a photograph of the stacker to the storage bin, so the older siblings could help put it away.

The doll house stacker is also available in natural wood. Get $5 off an order over $15 until December 15, with code "STB52008".

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another fun learning toy - ABC blocks at Oompa

Another fun learning toy that will last for many years is a nice set of alphabet blocks.

We especially like the Wooden ABC Blocks with Cart from Vilac ($46.99), which comes with a little wagon that is great both for block storage and for hauling a friend (and maybe some carefully chosen treasures) around.

There are 42 blocks in the set. They are 1.32"x1.32"x1.32" -- too big to choke on, but a good size for little hands. The non-toxic colors are bold and bright. The blocks are made in Thailand.

Alphabet blocks are a super versatile toy that offer so many ways to play and learn. They can be used for stacking and to build a castle.

" Is my castle right, Mommy?"

Because there are multiples of each letter, they can be used to write many important words.

And, of course, for reading and spelling lessons.

In addition to lots of letters, there are punctuation marks, numbers and numeric signs in this set. We've found that they are a fun way to practice math. If you have four blocks and five more blocks, then how many do you have all together?


So, while the blocks would make an excellent gift for a one year old, they are pretty fun at age four as well.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Made in the USA - learning fun from Down to Earth Toys

If you are looking for toys that are made in the USA or natural toys, Down to Earth Toys is the place. Ninety percent of the toys offered are made in the United States and all are made of natural, biodegradable, recyclable or recycled materials.

Arielle tried out the I can spell! Alphabet Puzzle by Tag Toys ($59.95)

This giant (23"L x 12" W) alphabet puzzle is made in the USA, and has won numerous awards, including Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, Best of School Supplies Four Gold Stars (Best Word Puzzle Toy), KDFW-TV (Fox 4-Dallas) Toy Test-Top 20 Toys, and Manhattan Mothers & Others (Best Word Puzzle Toy).

One of the best things about this puzzle, and what really sets it apart, is the unique spelling tray that allows the child to stand up letters and build words by copying word cards provided with the puzzle.

Arielle has been interested in the alphabet since she was very young and is now an early reader. However, she's just four and writing is still a struggle. She very much enjoyed being able to spell out words without the worry that her "b" is a "d", or dealing with the complicated curves of the letter "s".

More advanced readers can spell words without the cards.

"Arielle, spell FISH"

"Now what if we change the first letter."

"And then we change it again..."

"... and add ED."

This is a great learning toy on many levels. The large letters are slightly raised, so toddlers like Linnea can work on fine motor coordination when they pick up the letters and place them in the puzzle. They are big, so there is no choking danger. Even babies can safely handle these letters.

Linnea is also learning to discriminate between the different shapes and colors. When I tell her "That is the letter B, Linnea. B is for banana and baby, " she begins to recognize the letters and their names and sounds and will eventually stop calling them all "C". These are skills that will help her get ready to read.

Although Arielle can sound out words, spelling along with the cards helps build word recognition and vocabulary. Searching for the letters reinforces alphabetical order, and she practices the spelling of both simple and complex words.

So, overall, this is a great learning toy and is definitely is much nicer than the standard ABC puzzle.

One thing to note is that the puzzle ships directly from the manufacturer, so if you are considering one for the holidays, please allow 10-14 days to receive your order.

Another nice option for early readers is the Spinny Speller ($6.95). I keep one in my diaper bag and it is great for keeping Arielle busy in waiting rooms.

And, while visiting Down to Earth Toys, check out the nice selection of American and German made art supplies. We especially love Lyra pencils and they make excellent stocking stuffers for children of all ages.

Finally, until 12/31/2008, Down to Earth Toys is offering our readers 10% off with the code "TOYS08".

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cheekeyes at Oompa

Have you heard Laurie Berkener's song "We are the Dinosaurs"?

That is Arielle and Linnea's absolute favorite song. We listen to it many times a day. They love pretending to be dinosaurs as they sing along, and the first thing they wanted to do when we unpacked the Wooden Animal Dinosaur Set from Cheekeye was to have the dinosaurs march along with the song.

Cheekeye Dinosaurs

Did I say yet that these are just adorably cute? Even Tyrannosaurus rex looks sweet and cuddly.

In addition to Tyrannosaurus rex, the set includes Triceratops (Arielle's favorite), Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus, and Velociraptor.

The Cheekeyes are made in Sri Lanka and designed in the Netherlands. They are made of hard wood with paint only for the faces and edges. The dinosaur volcano ($16.99) and prehistoric trees ($16.99) are sold separately. They average about five inches in length.

Here are the dinosaurs getting ready to march....

and taking a rest....

and marching again.

Cheekeyes are available in the U.S. exclusively from Oompa. They also make a Farm Set, African Animal Set, Forest Animal Set and Polar Animal Set ($29.99 each), as well as (completely optional ) accessories ($16.99 a set). They would work really nicely with a set of playsilks.

Arielle says more than anything, she hopes Santa brings the "Antarctica Animals". She's been asking every day. If you are reading, Santa, then you know.


I love hearing from our readers, and Anthia, who has been a reader for a while, recently opened her own toy store, UrthChild. Her store is stocked with the most wonderful wooden natural toys, as well as organic clothing, toiletries, bedding, furniture, and accessories - just about everything a child needs.

Of course, the toys are the best! They include the brands Camden Rose, Joy's Waldorf Dolls, HABA, Holztiger, Plan, Selecta, and more. I'm getting some organic play dough for Linnea's birthday, and I'll let you know how the kids like it.

Over the Rainbow organic play dough (case of 6, $23.99)

Anthia has offered our readers a discount code, "STB1208" which is good for 10% off (excluding gift certificates) until 12/15/08.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

BellyLaf in the Bath

BellyLaf offers two fun and very practical products for bathing children, Grippees ($16.95) and MiniMitts($9.95).

Like all good ideas, the products are mom-inspired. Chris, one of the partners in BellyLaf, has twins who are now almost 5. When they were born, they were very small and slippery and like all of us, she always worried that she was going to drop them in the bath. She looked for something practical to help with holding them, but all she could find were bath puppets. From this, the idea for Grippeeswas developed.

Grippeesare bamboo (oh so very very soft and eco-friendly and naturally resistant to bacteria) bath mitts with gripping dots that do not irritate a child’s skin, but still help in holding slippery children as parents wash them or move them in and out of the tub or shower. The upper portion of the Grippees is designed for washing, not gripping. So the parent doesn't have to put the mitt down to grab a washcloth.

As the kids got older, they wanted to wash themselves so the moms at BellyLaf came up with the idea of MiniMitts, miniature bath mitts sized just for children.

Grippeesand MiniMitts are decorated with SmartShapes™, geometric designs that feature brightly colored sea creatures. We especially like the crabs.

BellyLaf's wash mitts have earned award from The Toy Man and from iParenting. But, more importantly, the have earned Linnea's seal of approval.

Linnea enjoyed trying out MiniMitts, but I have to admit she enjoys pulling the "glubs" on and off far more than washing.

Ten percent of profits from the sales of BellyLaf products go to The Hide and Seek Foundation, a non-profit organization raising money for research into fatal childhood diseases. The mitts are available through the BellyLaf website.


Daddy was home on leave for two weeks and many of the toys were ignored while the girls played their favorite game"Hop on Pop!". Now it is time to catch up with reviews of Cheekeyes dinosaurs and alphabet blocks from Oompa, natural toys from Down to Earth Toys, a dollhouse stacker from A Toy Garden, Lilly Bean Play Foods, Urthchild, The Silver Penny, an affordable wooden stroller, stocking stuffers, and some bamboo bath mitts from Bellylaf. And lots lots more...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

And the winner is....

Mandy is the lucky winner of our first ever toy giveaway!!! She wins one Large Flatout Koala Bear and one Flatout Baby Koala Bear from Bright October. Congratulations, Mandy!

We have another giveaway (Lilly Bean felt food!) coming later this month.

More Treasures from North Star Toys

We reviewed a few of North Star Toy's wonderful wooden playthings last year, and we are back with an update and a few new favorites.

Camera ($23.00)

I'm a mommy who takes a lot of pictures. Picture for Daddy overseas, pictures for Grandma, pictures for the blog, pictures to preserve all those sweet moments... So, I shouldn't have been too surprised to see Linnea pretending a block was her camera. And, I definitely should have been prepared for Linnea to try out my camera.

When I unpacked the North Star Camera, there was a little fight about who would try it out first. Linnea went first, but fortunately she has a short attention span because Arielle is the one who really enjoys the camera.

Every week, Arielle cuddles with her 17 year-old big sister and watches America's Next Top Model. Not great TV for preschoolers, but bonding with a big sister before she goes away to college - that's way more important.

Well... after watching last week, Arielle grabbed her camera and ordered us to pose. "Now you look like real models."

The camera is made of wood with a button that can really be pressed down, a focus and lenses that turn to be adjusted, and a red strap. Say "cheese"!

Happy Hybrid ($16.00)

Linnea loved the People Mover ($25.00) that we reviewed last year, and this year we got to try out the new eco-friendly Hybrid. It's a compact vehicle with five rainbow-passengers that runs on energy-efficient kid power.

Last November, Linnea was just turning one, and she enjoyed scooting the people mover and was just trying to fit the people into the little holes. This year, she names the peg people after her and Arielle's friends -- Ross, Piper, Emma, Coral, Ari.... -- and she pretends to buckle them all into car seats. Instead of just "Brmmm... brmmm...", the little cars have destinations. They are going shopping or to school or to the beach.

We also talk about the colors of the rainbow people -- but in Linnea's world, they are all "pink!"

Sometimes, I find Arielle very quietly playing with the rainbow vehicles while Linnea is napping.

North Star Toys have been made in the USA since 1979 by the Long Family. They offer simple toys that stimulate creative, imaginative play and that are made in the most eco-friendly way possible. North Star also makes rattles and pull toys, toy telephones, rolling dinosaurs, play sets, magic wands and all sorts of vehicles.

Thank you again, Tim and Connie, for making such wonderful toys.

Beautiful Sevilla Blocks - from Moolka

I love blocks. Blocks were the first toy that Arielle and Linnea were really able to play with cooperatively. My older children played with their blocks until they were nearly in their teens, and neighbor children would come over to play with their block set which was embellished with wooden findings from craft and hardware stores. And, I remember playing blocks with my own siblings, spending hour and hours building cities and towns. But, our blocks weren't this nice.

Building Blocks SevillaBuilding Blocks from Haba ($59.99)

This set of 25 beautiful wooden blocks is inspired by the work of the Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi, who designed the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona. These building blocks depict Gaudi's famous unique style and highly individualistic designs and cylindrical structures.

The blocks are made in Germany of beechwood and are stained with non-toxic, water-based paints. The bright colors and unique forms of these blocks allow for all sorts of building possibilities. Here is Linnea building a fairy house.

Like many Haba blocks, Sevilla blocks have interesting features like mirrors, magnifying glasses, tinted windows, bells, and prisms. Arielle is looking through the red magnifying block.

And she is building her own palace for fairies and unicorn and their friends.

"Pictures again!"

Of course, Sevilla blocks are compatible with all the other sets of Haba blocks for all kinds of building possibilities. Smaller block sets inspired by the work of Gaudi include Building Blocks Cordoba from Haba ($39.99) and Sakrada Building Blocks from Haba ($22.50).

Thank you, Moolka, for letting us try out these fun blocks!