Monday, September 21, 2009

More Fairies! from Magic Cabin.

Magic Cabin is the place for fairies!!! Look at what we are reviewing, another Magic Cabin Exclusive.

The Magic Cabin Tree Trunk Fairy Home ($99.00 and accessories from $24.98)

Yes, it is as amazing as it looks. And, that's why I'm using all the exclamation marks :0)

The box arrived a little over a week ago, and two very very excited little girls played with the accessories while I tried to figure out the assembly of the house.

It wasn't hard. I needed a small Phillips head screwdriver.

The trick is not to tighten the screws until the home is fully assembled. During assembly it looked like the pieces weren't quite lining up at the bottom (and I was thinking, "Oh no! such a great toy and I can't assemble it!"), but when everything was together, they magically lined up. That was the right time to tighten the screws. Voila! A fairy home.

With two doors that open and close.

Daddy Fairy coming home from work after a hard day of gathering acorns.

Daddy Fairy ($18.98) is a Kathe Kruse Woodland Fairy. The dolls (Daddy, Mommy, Big Sister, Little Brother, Grandma and Grandpa) are super cute and sturdy and well-made and exclusive to Magic Cabin.

The fairy home is surrounded by a puzzle-yard. This adds another dimension to playing.

Here are the cozy insides. Some woodland friends came to visit. The spiral staircase is movable. Ours are from Holztiger, but Magic Cabin also has a Woodland Animals Set ($24.98) from Poland.

The cute mushroom table and chairs are part of the Hammock/Table Set ($24.98). I wish my dining table looked like that.

Here's Big Sister Fairy ($18.98) relaxing in the hammock. She's my favorite. I love her rosy cheeks and braids. The hammock can double as a swing for two dolls.

The River Bridge Puzzle Set ($24.98) includes 8 pieces that assemble to make the perfect hiding place for trolls. Watch out, Fairy Family!

Arielle and Linnea decided to add the log furniture that belongs in their older sister's tree house. Magic Cabin also sells the Tree Block Furniture ($59.98). It looks cute in the house, but is a little small for the dolls.

But, Arielle and Linnea weren't bothered at all. They played nicely for hours and hours!!!!! (always worth many exclamation points, and they are still playing nicely more than a week later). Arielle says it is one of the best toys ever.

Magic Cabin has offered our readers free shipping on the Tree Trunk Fairy Home, Woodland Fairies, and the Tree Trunk accessories - the bridge, dinette set and hammock. The code is "HOME" and it is good until October 15, 2009.

If you are looking for a really special, heirloom quality toy for a little girl (or a few of them) this Christmas, Arielle and Linnea highly recommend this. The toys are suggested for ages three and up.

Thank you! Thank you! Magic Cabin.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More than just counting - with a Bajo abacus

An abacus is a strange toy. We see them and know they are educational, but then they rarely get played with or used for anything except basic counting... 1,2,3,4,5... Often an abacus is bought for a toddler who enjoy sliding the beads around for a while, but then it gets tossed in the toy box and forgotten. This is unfortunate, because an abacus is a great tool for early learning.

Bajo Wooden Bead Abacus

And here is Linnea sliding beads around :0)

Actually, Linnea first told me the colors of the beads. She's a little uncertain about some colors (and when she doesn't know, she says "purple", so we've been doing a lot of color identification to build up her confidence. And then we counted each color 1..2..3.....10! Pretty simple. When she gets older, we'll be able to count all the way to 100. She also got to work on her motor skills when she moved each bead, one at a time, by herself.

But, the abacus can do so much more for Arielle. I've been bringing it out when she does her math. Over the summer, Arielle mastered counting to 100 and learned counting by tens. The abacus is an easy way to illustrate how this works. We counted the individual beads and saw, yes, counting by tens really does work!

This week, Arielle learned about tens and ones. We used the colored beads to represent tens and when we needed to, the top row of plain beads to represent ones. A concept that was confusing on paper made a lot more sense when she could see it and touch it. Here we have two tens and four ones.

Linnea helps out and Arielle showed her how to add. An abacus is great for early adding. When seeing 3+2 on paper gets frustrating, I ask "If you have three blue beads and two green beads, how many beads do you have?" Although Linnea is far closer to "Here are three red beads, can you show me three orange beads?"

I'm thinking the abacus will be especially handy for subtraction and when we start adding numbers greater than ten.

A serious Arielle finishing up her homework.

This abacus is unusual in that it is comprised of two sets of beads. Fifty colored beads on one side and fifty natural wood beads on the other. This really allows the abacus to be used at different skill levels. The rows of red, orange, yellow, green and blue beads. are useful for early adding, keeping track of placement and introducing concepts. The natural beads are more challenging. The visual reinforcement really helps children understand and master new mathematical skills.

Arielle turned five last month, so she is just starting math. For now, I help her use the abacus to visualize problems when she gets frustrated. Soon, I'll say "Try it on the abacus." She will learn to do this herself, and she'll develop independence, problem-solving skills and self-confidence.

This abacus, like all Bajo are made in Poland of locally grown wood and are finished with child-safe, non-toxic lacquers. The abacus is large, the folded dimensions are 10.0 x 10.0 x 4.0 inches. And the 3/4 inch beads are also larger and easy to grasp. Oompa also offers an inexpensive twenty piece abacus ($13.99) perfect for younger children and a more traditional looking 100 piece abacus ($37.99).

Right now, they have a small wooden abacus with one row of five whole beads and one row of ten half beads on sale ($15.99). While not as versatile as the large abacus, I bought one because it is a nice size for teaching toddlers counting and colors, but can be used again later to explain halves and how to add them. And, sometimes, Linnea needs to feel included while Arielle works.

Check out Oompa for a full selection of early learning toys. Happy counting!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Singing all day long...

I am not very musical. I never played a musical instrument and can't carry a tune in a bucket although I enjoy listening and making up my own words.

Yet, I know music has so many benefits for children. Music teaches us about our own culture and links us to the cultures of others. It's a wonderful means of self-expression. And children who are exposed to a variety of music tend to do better in school. I was thinking about music and how to incorporate it into our home education while I was looking through the A Toy Garden website.

A Toy Garden has a wonderful selection of musical instruments, CD's and songbooks in the "Music with Children"section. The Owl Gourd Shaker ($5.50) is handmade in Peru and just beautiful, and I think there will be one in my bird-loving Arielle's stocking this year.

And, I love this gorgeous set of Peruvian musical instruments ($39.95). It reminds me of the woman who does a monthly preschool music program at our public library. She has a collection of musical instruments from all over the world and the children each choose one and line up and have a parade. I love seeing their faces as they explore and experiment with the unfamiliar instruments and the sounds they make.

But, this is a review about a song book. A really cool songbook.

This Is The Way We Wash A Day by Mary Thienes-Schunemann ($24.95)

This is The Way We Wash a Day is a collection of songs that are meant to be sung while going about the days routine. As Arielle knows, princesses always sing while they work. Work songs are the traditional way of making chores move along, and this collection has both traditional work (folk) songs and songs by the author that are specific to different tasks. There is a sweeping song called "Sweeping Song" and a dusting song and even a song that's perfect for washing wooly diaper covers. It's helped make chore time into more of a fun time. A fun time AND a learning time.

The 59 songs in the book are organized into chapters: Traditional Work Songs, In The Garden, In The Kitchen, Taking Care of Yourself, Activity Songs, and Special Times. The illustrations are lovely and there are historical notes and anecdotes about how the author uses these songs in her own home. Our very favorite song is a Taking Care of Yourself Song, "Mouse Nests."

Arielle has such long hair and Linnea's is thick and curly. Brushing and detangling it in the morning is a chore. It used to involve a lot of screaming and not a lot of cooperation. Then I started singing "Little mouse nests in your hair, Tangled mouse nests everywhere, Little mousies making mischief! Brushing your nests out hurts! Ouch!" They laughed. Now they line up to have their mouse nests removed each morning.

The tooth brushing song was not as successful. It's hard to brush and sing.

The book includes a CD to help teach the music. Mary Thienes Schunemann has a lovely voice (it made me feel slightly inadequate), and it was easy to follow along and learn the songs.

Yesterday, Linnea was brushing her stuffed doggies hair and singing in toddlerese "Little mouse nests in the hair, tangles get you out! Brush! Brush!" Very cute.

And lately, she's been making up her own songs for all sorts of activities. I really recommend this book.

Yes, it is easier to do the chores yourself. If you hand your child a little broom or a dusting cloth, it might take an extra five minutes. But that five minutes gives your child the feeling that she is really helping out. It helps her feel proud and grown-up and independent. Five minutes turns into a life time of not being afraid of a little work and maybe a bit of bonding time. In the end, five extra minutes is well worth it.

The book is printed in the USA.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Baufix Super Barrel

If you have a child who wants to fix or build things, the Baufix Super Barrel ($59.95) is a great deal and would make an excellent Christmas gift. This large bucket is filled with 113 different screws, nuts, wheels and wooden pieces galore. They can be combined in endless ways that are as unique and interesting as your child's imagination. Or, there is a picture book of instructions for a variety of vehicles.

For ages 3-6 although I think older children would still enjoy the set. I know that big brothers do. Here's my 23 year old step-son Frank building a fire engine.

Baufix are made in Germany. Most of the pieces are made of hardwoods and painted with non-toxic paints, but a few pieces are safe plastic. Here's Arielle's creation, she followed the instructions with her big brother's help .

But, she usually builds bird houses (of course!).

Linnea likes to take things apart. The little purple washers also make nice princess rings.

The set is of very nice quality and is one of the nicer building sets that I've seen. Our only problem was that in the winter, the girls like to play near the heating vents. I had to put in metal screens to catch the small pieces. Check out Carl & Me; they have a nice selection of Baufix building sets in various sizes suitable for all ages, and other building sets. Everything is made in the USA or Europe. Shipping is only $5.95 and there is free shipping on purchases over $100.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Laptop Lunches from A Toy Garden.

I know, it's not a toy, and I tried it out on my husband. He's a teacher. His students have behavioral problems, so no metal or glass can be brought in to the school. So, it was hard to find him an eco-friendly lunch solution. I'd been using a mishmash of suspicious looking old Tupperware and assorted plastic bags. Because I was concerned about safety and hate the waste of plastic and paper, I was so pleased when A Toy Garden suggested we try out the Laptop Lunch Box.

Laptop Lunch Box

Laptop Lunches are the American version of Japanese Bento boxes. This Laptop Lunch Box includes an insulated carrying case, a water bottle, an inner Bento box with 5 individual containers, a fork, a spoon and The Laptop Lunch User's Guide, a handy book full of healthy lunch ideas. The plastic food containers are reusable, recyclable, and dishwasher safe. Everything is lead-free and contains no BPA or phthallates. The plastic containers are made in Northern California and no binding agents, plasticizers, or any materials that are suspected carcinogens or endocrine disrupters are used in the process. The insulated carrying case and water bottle are made in China and have been tested to be safe.

The boxes are dishwasher safe on the top rack. The carrying case is insulated, but you should use an ice pack to keep perishable foods cold. I try not to microwave any plastic, but the containers are as microwave safe as any other plastic. Do not microwave the lids.

The Laptop Lunch Box is available in two color options. We tried Primary.

So, I have to admit that my husband was nervous at first. Lunch is a big deal for him and he was worried that the small containers (the largest have a 1 cup capacity) wouldn't hold enough.

Here's his lunch.

He has tabbouleh and chickpea salad with fresh tomatoes from my garden, hummus, whole grain pretzels, mini pita bread, tomato jam and raisins and a fruit snack leftover from a recent road trip. My one concern was that only two of the containers have lids. I got around that with some Saran Wrap.

The lids are on and his drink is in the box.

I closed the lid and there is room for the napkin. An ice pack (or a friendly note) can be slipped in the mesh pocket. Since the lunch can be refrigerated, I didn't bother. But, this would be great for school.

Here it is, all zipped up and ready to go.

So, my husband was pleasantly surprised by how much lunch fit in the boxes. Everything was nicely compact and cleaned up easily.

Another thing I like about this lunchbox is its versatility. It isn't super cutesy, but the little containers are fun for smaller children. The strap is adjustable to work for both kindergarteners and adults, and the simple design is not one that can be outgrown. So, while the price seems high compared to big box stores, after four years, it will more than pay for itself. And, you'll know the food is safe.

Unfortunately, my husband wouldn't let me take a picture of him proudly holding the lunch box on his first day of school.

Thank you, A Toy Garden :0)