Archives for November 2014

2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Creative Gifts for Playful Families

The Risky Kids 2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Creative Gifts for Playful Families. Christmas gift ideas for boys, girls, tweens and teens!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

As much as I’d like to believe the holidays aren’t right around the corner, the 2 inches of snow and the 8 foot Christmas tree display at my local Target have convinced me otherwise. I don’t know about you, but I really struggle with gift-giving at the holidays. My kids are not immune to the school bus chatter and the thick, glossy ads in the Sunday paper. The newest iPhone, an XBOX with its enticing array of inappropriate games, toys that talk, light up, and do all the playing for you … these wants and wishes conflict with the kind of play I want my kids to experience.

As frustrating as it can be to look at the store circulars and commercials this time of year, I always find that there are really great toys out there. You just have to look a little harder. They may not be as flashy, and their companies may not have the advertising and PR budgets to compete with the big guys, but they are fabulously fun and deserve a spot under the tree! To save you the time and the struggle, I’ve pulled together some of our favorites. Our criteria? It has to be fun for the whole family, and it has to have play value that will last long after the decorations are packed up and the snow has melted! Here are The Risky Kids picks for this holiday season:

The  OgoSport OgoDisk RAQ is one of my favorite purchases of the year. We used it in the summer and fall outdoors (it’s awesome at the pool, too!), and now we’ve brought it in for basement play. It’s easy enough for little kids to play, but still fun and entertaining for grownups, too.

The PlasmaCar  is on our wish list after Eli played with one in Spain. I always assumed it was a little kid toy, but Eli loved it. It moves by using centrifugal force, friction, and kid power … or even adult power! It holds up to 220 lbs, so give it a spin!

plasma car

We got our starter Snap Circuits Jr. kit for Christmas 2 years ago, and it’s one of those toys that keeps seeing playtime. The best part about it is that you can easily add on and expand as your kids get more into it. This year the Elenco Snap Circuits Lights Physics Kit is on our list. My kids love mixing tech and toys, so I know they’ll be way into this.

I have my eye on the Hoberman Switch Pitch color-changing ball for a fun stocking stuffer after seeing it mentioned by a few other parents. We survive winter by letting the kids go crazy with balls in the basement, and I think this fun contraption would be a game-changer!

The Diggin Active Dodge Tag game is another perfect indoor/basement activity for kids that need to get rid of some pent-up winter energy! I think it would be a great alternative for NERF guns, too – whether you’re opposed to toy guns or you’re just tired of hearing arguments about who got hit when. The ball sticks to the vest, so if you’re hit, you know it! How fun would it be to get everyone in the family their own vest and have a big, rowdy family game of dodge tag?

We didn’t bring any toys with us to Spain, and only a couple of games. But my cousin had a puzzle similar to the Perplexus Epic at his house and it kept the kids, well, perplexed!

Bounce-Off is one of those games that I’m seeing everywhere right now. I love the concept. You have to bounce your balls so that they land in the same pattern as the challenge card you draw. It’s an active game, which will definitely appeal to kids who might not enjoy sitting down for a traditional board game, but at the same time it can be played by all ages. I think this one is going to be a hit not only with our family, but with the kids on our street, too.

We’re big fans of just about any game Blue Orange puts out. Our latest Blue Orange favorite is Brave Rats. It’s similar to  War, but the cards have special powers that can overrule the number. I keep it in the car for travel and long waits at restaurants, since it’s a fast-paced game and the small carrying tin slips easily into a purse or backpack. It would make a great stocking stuffer for any game-loving kid!

braverats

Chances are, if you’ve got a kid between the ages of 7 and 12, you also have a Minecraft fan in your house. As much as I love the creativity of the game, I don’t love hour after hour spent in front of a screen. That’s why I’m super excited to see that LEGO has come out with a line of Minecraft-themed kits just in time for the holidays. There are several, but I especially like the LEGO Minecraft Crafting Box. I see endless hours of kids creating their own LEGO Minecraft realms and using these bricks with them. And maybe, just maybe, building sets like this will help parents to finally understand the difference between a creeper and an enderman.

While my gift guide criteria requires that my choices are fun for the whole family, I do realize that tweens and teens are in a category all their own (in more ways than one)! Here a few special suggestions for the older kids on your gift list:

I’ve recommended (and purchased) a Kiwi Crate subscription for years. I was dreading the day the kids aged out of them … but no more! They’ve recently introduced three new members to the Kiwi Crate family, and two of them are perfect for tweens and teens. The Tinker Crate is geared toward ages 9 and up, and integrates science, engineering and technology into a fun project. The Doodle Crate is geared toward girls ages 9 and up, and features a creative and crafty DIY project each month. We’ve played around with both crates, and I’m happy to report that they were big hits. I continue to be impressed with the quality of the materials and the longevity of play value these crates consistently provide. As an added bonus for you early shoppers, you can get 60% the first month of a new subscription to any of the Kiwi Crate family brands. Just shop the Black Friday Sale and use the code HOLIDAY60. Gotta act quick, though! This offer expires 12/1/14.

Tinker Crate

Doodle Crate >>

I’m sticking to my promise to make the book UNBORED Games my new, go-to gift for birthdays and holidays. (I reviewed it last month, in case you missed it.) A copy of this fabulous book (maybe even paired with its partner, Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun) would be a fabulous choice for those picky tweens and teens. Finally! An alternative to just giving them iTunes gift cards!

unboredgames

These Orion Astronomy Binoculars are on my tween’s wish list, and I couldn’t be happier. She’s taken a big interest in astronomy lately, and loves to spend evenings outside gazing at the stars. Good telescopes are pricey, and can be difficult for kids to use. These are affordable, easy to transport (how awesome would they be on camping trips?!), and seem easier to for older kids to use on their own.

I spotted the Joy Of Zentangle in our local library and checked it out. Have you ever tried making your own zentangle drawings? It’s so relaxing! You can find tons of ideas on Pinterest, but this book, paired with a nice set of thin markers and a sketch pad would be a cool gift for a tween or teen. And it’s not just for girls! The graphic art aspect of zentangle is just as appealing to boys (hint: even parents who don’t think they’re artsy can easily get into making zentangles).

I hope this helps make your holiday shopping a little easier! If you’d like even more ideas, check out last year’s gift guide. We still love all the toys on that list, too! If you like anything you’ve seen here, be sure to pin it for reference while you’re shopping. The best gift you can give me this holiday season is to share this gift guide with your friends – I’ll be happy, you’ll look awesome, and your friends will be thankful. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

Happy Holidays, friends!

 

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2014 Chicago Toy & Game Fair {Family Pass Giveaway}

You know how much we love games and great toys. We’re always on the hunt for something new and happy when we rediscover old favorites.  Last winter, while falling down the rabbit hole that is the internet, I came across the website for the Chicago Toy & Game Fair. An entire weekend dedicated to showcasing the best toys and games from around the globe? A chance to play and meet the inventors and makers of some of our favorite games and toys? Where do I sign up?!

2014 Chicago Toy & Game Fair Family Pass Giveaway

Well …. that was the only glitch. I had just missed the 2013 Chicago Toy & Game Fair by a few weeks. You better believe I marked the date in my calendar for this year! The 2014 Chicago Toy & Game Fair takes place next weekend, November 22-23 at the Navy Pier. We’re making a fun family weekend out of it, and we hope you can meet us there, too. What are we looking forward to the most? It’s hard to narrow it down, but here are a few things were super-pumped to do:

  • Visit the Mayfair Games booth, maker of one of our favorite games of all-time: Settlers of Catan. Mike’s currently on the wait list, but he’s crossing both fingers and all his toes that he can get a seat in the Catan tournament. He’d love a chance to win a spot in the Catan World Championship (I’m not even kidding).
  • Check out the Air Hogs and Spy Gear stuff at the Spin Master booth.
  • See what’s new with the company that makes our favorite scooters, Razor.
  • Tell the folks at Educational Insights how much we love Kanoodle and how we named it one of our favorite games for travel.
  • Play around with a Perplexus. I recently saw it on a holiday gift guide for kids and I think Eli would love it.

There are lots of other events besides browsing the booths, including workshops for Girl and Boy Scouts (FYI, Scouts are admitted for free if they show their credentials), the Young Inventor Challenge, and a Star Wars Luncheon.

In case you can’t tell, we’re pretty excited! We’d love to see you there, so we’re giving away a Family Weekend Pass. It’s good for free entry into the Toy & Game Fair for your entire family. To enter, just use the Rafflecopter widget below! Giveaway ends Tuesday, November 18 at 11:59 PM EST. Winner will have 24 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen. Winner will receive the family pass via email. If you don’t win, we’d still love for you to come! Visit this link for ticket info and a $2 off coupon to the Chicago Toy & Game Fair.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Be Prepared: A Year With the Cub Scouts

Cub Scout Fun Day Archery

The marketing team for the Crossroads of America Council/Boy Scouts of America deserves some kind of medal (Perhaps a badge would be more appropriate?). I’m not sure exactly how they go about selling the concept of scouting to first grade boys, or what they’re telling them. I can tell you that Eli came home from school one day convinced that becoming a Cub Scout was the key to happiness in life.

Now, Eli brings home a lot of information from school, and 95% of he could care less about. He’s a lot like me in his tendency to be a homebody. He has to really, REALLY want to participate in something for it to lure him from home and playing with his friends. We’re fiercely protective of our after-school schedules, so we’re good with that. I’ve always believed that there were plenty of years ahead of us to get involved in sports and clubs. I feel strongly that kids should be excited and motivated on their own to get involved, rather than having adults push activities on them. As parents of a tween, we can attest to the fact that the day will come when they have a strong opinion about what types of extracurricular activities they want to take part in. I might ask the kids if they’re interested in a particular activity when a flier comes home or I see something in the school newsletter, but if they’re not overly enthusiastic, I have no problem keeping our afternoons and weekends activity-free.

The Cub Scout flier fell under the 5% of papers Eli brings home that requires my immediate attention. He wanted to be a Cub Scout, end of discussion! There was an informational meeting for parents coming up, and he immediately wrote it in my calendar. He then proceeded to remind us about it every single day until the meeting time arrived.

That’s how we found ourselves initiated into the world of Scouting. This is all new to us, and I’m very curious to see how Cub Scouts fits into The Risky Kid way as well our parenting philosophy. Here’s what appeals to us so far:

Appropriate Time Commitment: I’ve always heard that Scouting is a big commitment for families. I’m sure that is probably true as the boys progress through the program, but as a Tiger Scout (first grade), we’re finding the commitment to be manageable. We have 2-3 meetings a month, with a few optional activities available as well.

Cub Scout Fun Day BB Guns

Activities That Appeal to Boys: I’m pretty sure Eli was sold when he heard there would be BB guns. He’ll also have the opportunity to participate in camping, archery, rafting, and the Pinewood Derby.

Activities That Complement Our Parenting Philosophy: We’re big on doing things that get our kids moving, playing, and developing life skills that will lead them to becoming competent, independent adults. Even in Tiger Scouts, there are Achievements and Electives that go hand-in-hand with our philosophy, such as spending time outdoors, being of service to others, and learning life skills (how to sew a button, phone manners, using public transportation).

Quality Time With Other Boys & Adults: We’re looking forward to meeting other parents and having Eli get to know other boys in our community that we might not spend time with otherwise. I also like that it gives us the opportunity to participate in something together. So far Mike has been to the meetings with Eli, but this week I’ll go with him so I can get a taste of it for myself. For families that are as protective of their family time as we are, I envision Scouting as an activity that can enhance family time, as opposed to just making demands on it.

Throughout the year, I’ll keep you up informed on what we’re up to with the Scouts and how we feel it’s impacting our family life. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experience with Scouting (Girl Scout Experiences welcome, too!). Was it a positive experience for your family? Or did it not live up to your expectations?

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