Play and Learn Toys ~ The Way It Should Be

play-and-learn-toysAt times in the Canadian prairies it’s tough to find those great natural & open ended toys that many of us believe in(toys that allow children to play…and learn…without getting overstimulated or ingesting nasty chemicals)without paying insane shipping charges and customs fees. We recently discovered a northern Albertan company, Play and Learn Toys, that solves that problem for parents all over Canada. Owner Narissa Singh, a UNB Business graduate, has lived in northern Alberta for nearly ten years and struggled to find Canadian sources for quality toys for her own children. She has chosen to offer a super array of products from some great manufacturers known for their quality & safety, and runs her business out of her home since her tiny town doesn’t have retail space for a store.

Play & Learn Toys carries many products that I’ve seen on European sites and been curious about, so I was thrilled to see that they’re available in Canada now – and being from a mom-run business makes it even better!

My children are absolutely loving their new Stepped Pyramid ($54.99) from Grimms. It consists of a square wooden base filled with blocks in a variety of colours, sizes and versatile shapes. With an open ended toy like this, the possibilities for learning are endless. We now use them daily for imaginative building play and they’ve been castles, rocketships, dragons, post offices, houses and so much more. That’s the thing with great toys – they don’t do the imagining or noisemaking for you, so they can be anything at any time. Grimms’ products are made in Germany of wood and non-toxic colourings.

Another super product the Play & Learn Toys carries is Contina by Bamboo($29.99). This is not just another sets of blocks. Contina includes a rainbow of colors, black and natural finishes on 100 bamboo sticks which are small and lightweight for children 3 years and up. Combine colors, create a rainbow, stack lengthwise like dominos or pile them high for tons of creative fun. The possibilities are endless with Contina. It’s no wonder that Contina won the Best Toy award from Child’s Magazine.

Join Play & Learn Toys on Facebook.

An Affordable Peek Into The World of Chic

chikpeekThere’s no doubt that we’re in the midst of a recession, and even if you’re one of the lucky ones who hasn’t lost any money or jobs you’re sure to be feeling the urge to be a little bit more careful with your spare cash. However, that doesn’t mean you’ve lost your desire to splurge for yourself and your babes on high quality and functional merchandise.

Medicine Hat, Alberta based ChicPeek, offers a great variety of incredibly high quality products at great prices. Owner & designer Echo Wells is a mom of three who has been creating beautiful items for over 15 years. Her experience is evident as soon as you see her products in person. They’re of a highly professional quality but sell for a handmade price.

The ChicPeek nursing covers(a steal at $24.99 without your discount – see below) is truly one of a kind. (Pictured in the two centre images at right.) Made of a gorgeous cashmere & silk pashmina (black or brown), it’s the required amount of discreet and modest, but unusually fashionable for a nursing cover. There are enough “Hey, guess what? I’m breastfeeding!” (a.k.a. ugly) nursing covers out there; it’s about time someone made one like this. Essentially just a long & wide scarf that’s strategically sewn with a head & arm hole, it covers all the way around, making it fully tug-proof. There’s an open side so one hand is always free to multi-task, and it’s the perfect weight to not swelter you or baby while you cuddle. If someone notices that you’re nursing, it’s likely either someone who has seen one of Echo’s great covers before or who spotted the gorgeous little toes peeking out from underneath. Even better is that when you’re done nursing or in between children, your nursing cover is a beautiful scarf that you can wear several ways without anyone having any idea that it once hid your boobs from strangers.

ChicPeek offers a large selection of Miklips hair bows & clips for newbies and right up to moms. From the most adorable corkers to gorgeous big bows, the Chic Peek clips are of top quality, stay in your hair and are absolutely gorgeous.

Most of all, though, I was thrilled to discover the ChicPeek buggie hugs shopping cart cover ($49.99 – two bottom images at right). I have looked everywhere – brick and morter as well as online – and ChicPeek is the first place I’ve found stylish looking covers with holes and belts for two children to share the front seat of a cart. (The standards is two holes and one belt, but just ask and Echo will put another belt in for you.) The design of her buggy hugs are brilliant. Aside from the extra wide leg holes to accommodate one leg or two, these are also the only covers I’ve seen come equipped with an attached caribiner to secure the cover to the cart. My kids ride in the different shades of red pattern, which is gorgeous and commented on everywhere we go – particularly Costco when both kids are germ free & buckled in the front seat of the cart. If you’re going to have a second child before your first turns four, I highly recommend you pick up a Chic Peek buggy hug and get a second belt put in. The longer you can contain them safely, the happier you’ll be. Trust me on that.

Kids Build Character with Life’s Building Blocks

lifesbuildingblocks-108x300One of the trends I’ve noticed in children over the years – in my classroom and elsewhere, and it’s not a good one, is that many of them are less than empathetic (insert your own pet peeve here – respectful of adults is another one I’ve noticed). I don’t know the reason. More parents working long hours? Parents trying to be friends instead of parents?

Whatever the reason, the things that are suffering are all character traits that we, as a human race, should be concerned about.

Life’s Building Blocks is a company founded by Vikash and Juli Sanyal, two SoCal parents. Their goal was to develop character building products that would be fun for kids and easy for parents to use and they’ve succeeded with their award-winning lineup of age appropriate products.

In addition to creating Zaki, my child’s favourite lovable, talking, plush “character chameleon,” they placed Zaki in the midst of the Spruce Street Six — a group of best friends in the third grade. In the stories, the friends who make up The Spruce Street Six encounter many of the common ethical challenges that confront children everywhere. The stories highlight both the strengths, weaknesses and virtues of each of the children making them seem very real to the children reading. Because of that, the ethical decisions made in the book are easily transferred to the decisions they are faced with in their daily lives.

Zaki himself is geared toward children aged 3-6. My three year old is just at the youngest appropriate age and he loves it, but I can see how he will grow into using it more often. Actually I can see us pulling out Zaki as a teaching tool when we need to readdress some of the basic character issues. He sings “Zaki’s song” and has six short stories and rhymes starring the Spruce Street Six programmed into his innards. The best part of “Storytelling Zaki”, in my opinion, are the fins on his back which change colors when the kids are in situations where they should stop (red), slow down and think (yellow), or go for it (green)! It was the first thing to get the attention of my son and definitely the part that kept it. It gave us the opportunity to chat about the situations in the stories and ensure that he actually understood the thought processes going on in the characters. Zaki sells for $30.

The Spruce Street Six Chapter Books, for ages 6-9, feature characters Honest Jake, Jessica the Brave, Calm Carlos, Lauren Never Quits, Jarrett the Just and Kind Shawnie who, with Zaki’s help and their own consciences, take readers on fun adventures that use real dilemmas & ethical problem solving skills teach character building while they enjoy a good book. They sell for $6 a piece.

The related Spruce Street Six Activity Books help reinforce the moral lessons learned in the books via puzzles, short stories, word searches and crack coded messages. They also sell for $6 each

I’m glad to see more products that do more than sing songs and blink, and character building is one of the most valuable goals for a toy that I’ve seen yet.

The Chatterbox – The Box That Has Families Talking!

chatterbox-300x243The Chatterbox is a new game developed by Kim and David Maksymuik, Canadian parents who were stumped by a lack of resources available to parents to assist them when teaching their young twins valuable life skills. Their mission is to empower families to communicate, work together and master key life skills by providing them with tools and information that will help them learn in a quick, easy, fun and interesting way.

Each box comes with 140 cards covering topics in six life skills categories: family harmony, building character, developing people skills, goal planning, achievement skills and understanding money.

The Chatterbox provides age appropriate questions for children aged 3-6 years, 7-11 years and 12 years and up that are designed to stimulate conversation within the family. The Chatterbox also suggests fun games related to the subject matter addressed on each card and reinforcing tasks to be completed over the next week to facilitate retention and family fun and to ensure that families gain experience with real life skills in addition to the hypothetical ones. We’re sure looking forward to using The Chatterbox as a tool to facilitate our family dinner table conversations when our kids are older!

As of August 1/08, The Chatterbox is available online at Please Mum.com and, if you’re not an online shopper, just head to the local mall and pick yours up at any Please Mum store across Canada!

Play Food That Won’t Give Your Kids Lead Poisoning If They Chew On It. (Not that my kids would do that.)

lillybeanlunchStarted by crafty mom Hilary Seabolt in 2004 when her son asked what kind of food his new stuffed animals were supposed to eat, Lilly Bean Market creates what is by far the nicest and most solidly constructed felt play food I’ve seen to date. She works closely with a small group of Amish and a machine seamstress to ensure that her business remains solely based in the USA.

It’s so great to have an option for the ever popular kitchen play that doesn’t involve plastic, wood with potentially lead laden paint or spit soaked cardboard. It’s amazing – almost so nice that you’ll be tempted to not let your kids play with it because it looks so nice arranged among the toy dishes. But that would be silly. I had Granny’s Breakfast just this morning, and it’s delish. Or, as my son says, “Petend delisus!” (That’s “pretend delicious,” for you non-parental types.)

Lilly Bean Market play food is available individually or as meals. Having played with these myself…I mean, with the kids (ahem), I can tell you you’re going to want to go with at least a meal. Chances are, you’ll get your first order and end up going back for more. I know I will.

Keep an eye on the new items – there are sure to be more cool creations coming soon!

A Revolution in Brilliant Colour

girlsnotchicksIt’s well known in my circle that I won’t allow Barbie or Bratz in my home. I won’t tell my kids what they can and can’t play with when presented with a selection of toys, but I’m sure not going to encourage them to play with small plastic prostitutes by having them in our home.

With the continued proliferation of the princess persona and the mainstream media’s portrayal of what little girls and little boys “should” become, I was excited to hear from Jacinta Bunnell who, along other independent artists, has designed and published two feminist coloring books like nothing I’ve ever seen. The images in “Girls Not Chicks” are anything but what you’d expect to find in a children’s colouring book. Appropriate for both boys and girls (because, isn’t anything?) “Girls Not Chicks” and “Girls Will Be Boys Will Be” are a great alternative to Barbie and Bratz and the princess saturated Disney. Each page is original enough to get a rise from some and make others laugh. Either way, they’ll get you thinking and challenging, and that’s what it’s all about. “For every girl who tosses out her Easy-Bake oven, there is a boy who wishes to find one.” Hell, yeah.

Girls Not Chicks and Girls Will Be Boys Will Be are both available from Jacinta’s etsy shop for under $10.