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Top Five Gifts of 2008: Unique and Innovative

This summer our neighborhood was incredibly fortunate. Our county parks system chose to renovate our neighborhood playground providing our children with a summer filled with fun and excitement. One of the best features of the new equipment was a pretend store window where children bought and sold mulch, made grassy milkshakes, and ate imaginary ice cream cones. The summer ended and children were seen playing less and less frequently. Then one day I received an e-mail from a friend cancelling a playground playdate. It turned out that her daughter, now in kindergarten, had decided that she was “too old to go to playgrounds.” My friend wrote, “What am I supposed to do? Take her out for a drink?”

Children grow up so quickly and are offered so many choices for how to spend their time. It takes truly innovative toys and learning products to engage them, provide them with entertainment, and remind them that being a kid is fun.
Here are my five choices for the Top Five Unique & Innovative Gifts of 2008 .
1. Cherry Blossom Market – The newest member of the Playskool Dream Town line of toys takes the imaginative play from those warm, summer days on the playground and brings them into your home. Beautifully made to resemble a store front yet easily and conveniently stored, this gift provides an opportunity for your child to enjoy hours of pretend play. Customers can order fruit and vegetables or ice cream treats (sold separately) from the walk up window, and the store owner can use the the cash register to total up their sales from a busy day! What I love most about this product is that it brings children together to play in a unique way. There are very few toys that engage both my four year old and two year old, but this product is one of them. While my older child utilizes the Cherry Blossom Market for more sophisticated pretend play, my younger child is still able to enjoy the playfulness that he remembers from his fun summer on the exciting, new playground.
2. Tonka’s Bounce Back Racer – As the little sister to one very typical boy, I spent hours as a child playing with race cars, RC vehicles, and big, metal dump trucks. Those large, metal trucks have remained my vision of the Tonka line of products, despite the ways in which they have branched out over the last twenty-five years. However, with this year’s Bounce Back Racer, Tonka will never be the same. This wireless, remote control vehicle is actually two cars in one. When the red and orange racer falls down a step or flips over your child’s messy pile of blocks, the racer simply continues on as a blue and green racer, which has been hiding on the underbelly of the car all along! The soft squishy body of the vehicles and the chunky, rubbery wheels keep this speedy car from damaging your house – or you!
3. Writing Fundamentals by Mead – Every holiday family members ask if there are any educational products that my children might use and also enjoy rather than simply buying them “yet another toy.” So often the answer is that they might like a workbook or puzzle, but after awhile these products also become “just another workbook.” This year I am excited to have discovered the new Writing Fundamentals line by Mead. Immediately upon viewing these products and holding them in your hands, you will understand that they are Mead products: high-quality, visually attractive, and sturdy enough to withstand use by kids. The line focuses on four levels of writing development. My four year old has begun using all of the Stage 1 products as well as the Learn to Letter with Guidelines book in Stage 2. Not only do I feel confident that these activities are helping her build the skills she needs to be able to form letters and numbers properly, but I am incredibly impressed with the enjoyment she is experiencing while completing the activities. Any parent can feel confident purchasing these innovative products not only for their own children, but as gifts for friends and relatives.

4. Kubit2Me – Remember the days of Friday night Trivial Pursuit parties? I have always enjoyed playing games with my family, first with my parents as a child, and now with my own children. It has been quite some time, however, since I have seen an exciting new game for kids. That is, until I learned about the Kubit2Me lines of games. Kubit2Me games are fuzzy cubes that are visually interesting and appealingly to little one’s hands. Any time we engage with our children and play, we are opening up lines of communication. However, Kubit2Me takes this one step further because it is designed specifically to build these lines of communication. While there are Kubit2Me games called “Truth or Dare” and “Now You’re Talkin‘,” the game that my kids have and enjoy is “Lil’ Scholars.” There are countless ways to play, especially if you utilize the bonus box of cards. My pre-school age children enjoy placing the letter cards into the Kubit cubes colored pockets. As we toss the cube back and forth, each child must draw a card, announce the name of the letter, and place the letter in it’s appropriate position in the alphabet. I am grateful to have found a game that all four members of my family enjoy, and one that has opened up infinite possibilities for communication, interaction, and fun!
5. You Can Make This! – How would you like to give your children unique and beautiful gifts this holiday….that you made yourself? I recently learned about a fabulous website called You Can Make This. Visitors to the site are able to browse patterns and craft instructions, purchase, download, print and create all from the comfort of their own homes! You Can Make This has downloadable instructions and patterns for everything from boutique clothing and handbags, to jewelry, home decor, digital scrapbooking, crochet, and more. All instructions are written by everyday women who have an expertise in an area. Why not MAKE items for those on your holiday gift-giving list this year? Instructions at http://www.youcanmakethis.com/ can show you how.

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