Playing Croquet and Making Summer Fun Memories

by Tiffany in Natural Toys

Sadly at the height of summer this year it was just too darn hot to spend much time outside. I started to think I was back in my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona rather than in Central Ohio. It was so hot that my kids ended up playing video games and watching TV way more than normal. The temperatures were too high and the normally cool, soft grass was dry and crunchy. Our lawn still hasn’t recovered. Ugh.

The weather of late though has been wonderful and I am hoping for a mild Fall so that we can make up for lost time…and spend lots of it outdoors, playing. One activity that brings back memories of my own summer fun is croquet. My grandmother had a vintage set that I played with for hours upon hours with my younger brother and cousins. So I was excited when Down to Earth Toys offered to send us a croquet set for us to review and enjoy. The store has been selling high quality, natural toys for years and we have enjoyed several of their products over the years, including this wonderful SpellMaster.

The croquet set was just what I remembered. All wood, made with classic bright colors, and oh so fun to play. My kids and I were excited to give it a try. Even if some of us didn’t quite dress for the occassion:

We had to read through the instructions together first to see how to play (since I did not remember) but after the first game we played together my own kids ended up doing what I always used to do when I was a kid…invent their own game/rules. Whether you play a structured or game or make up your own it always fun to hit balls through an obstacle course.

The set itself is very high quality and will last for years and years, as most wooden toys do. I know my grandmother’s set seemed indestructible. My brothers and cousins and I all played with it for years, every single summer. It lasted right up until she died and it was auctioned off. I wish I snagged it back then but it didn’t occur to me that I wanted to create those same wonderful summer memories with my own children, until later. That is why I think this set has so much value in my eyes…it helps us to recreate the fond croquet memories so many of us have from our own childhoods. Of course it is also great for teaching hand eye coordination and good sportsmanship. Kids of all ages, even small ones, love to play.

This hardwood, six-player croquet set includes six maple mallets with 32″ handles, two 24″ goal posts, nine indestructible heavy steel wickets, six 3-1/4″ polymer balls, a canvas storage bag and complete instructions. Down to Earth has toys made in the USA so you are supporting American businesses when you buy.

The price ($144.00) seems kind of steep at first but I know that set will get much use over the next few years and unlike so many conventional toys and games I know it will last for many, many more. I have no doubt that someday my grandchildren could be playing with this set on my lawn and creating fond memories of summers at grandma’s house.

Do you have croquet memories from your own childhood?


Educational Toys for Natural Kids

by Tiffany in Homeschool, Natural Toys

It’s spring break around these parts and summer is not too far away now. I find that public schooling often feeds feelings of boredom because kids are super scheduled all day and when they come home they still want “activity”. Few of us though want that activity to revolve around video games and television so educational toys have become increasingly popular among parents in recent years. There are a couple of reasons for this. Some parents believe that educational toys will not only “jump-start” their children’s learning, it will also help them retain skills that might otherwise go unused when school is out. Homeschoolers use educational toys as part of the regular learning process because earning through play is an amazing thing. Also, parents with disabled children have found that some educational toys help their children in a number of different ways.

Below are a few examples of educational toys.

1. Puzzles – Yes, puzzles are considered to be educational because they help kids (and adults) improve their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and their problem-solving skills. It can be a great for learning and family bonding to work together on large puzzles. If you know of any other families in your area who are puzzle enthusiasts you can swap puzzles to keep costs down. Some good ones to try are Geo Puzzles that teach geography and 4D Human Anatomy Puzzles that teach anatomy.

2. Building Blocks – Of course you have the classic blocks that have letters of the alphabet on them as well as numbers, those are always educational. But playing with unmarked blocks helps young children learn about three-dimensional shapes, spatial relationships and what it takes to build something. Therefore, these toys are considered to be educational too. For a fun spin on this try a wood marble run. We also love Tegu Magnetic blocks.

3. Musical Instruments – Do your kids love music? Many children enjoy music and enjoy learning how to play various instruments so give them the opportunity if you can. Playing musical instruments helps children improve their memory skills, become better disciplined, develop a sense of achievement, and build confidence in their skills. You can often find affordable instruments on Craigslist and at yard sales and auctions. We found a gorgeous flute in a velvet lined box once for only $20 at a yard sale!

4. Model Toys – Many people, both young and old, enjoy putting together models (boats, cars, airplanes, etc.) and learn a lot in the process. Children who put these objects together learn about the object itself as well as how various pieces fit together. if you want to keep it green then go for wood models like this Titanic model (my oldest boy would love this!) or this 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer. You could also use materials you have around the house to make sailboats and then take the kids to a nearby creek to sail them. Educational and fun.

5. Science Toys – Science toys are great educational toys. It doesn’t matter if a child is learning how to build a motor, make a geode, or see how electricity works, these toys can help teach it all.

But what if you have young children? Below are some of the best educational toys for babies and toddlers.

1. Markers, Crayons, Paper, Etc. – Your toddler will learn a lot by playing with various types of art supplies. Other examples include watercolors and molding clay.

2. Activity Tables – You can make your own activity/sensory tables for toddlers and babies. They hold their attention and help them learn at the same time! Put out some paint colors for them to mix, sand for them to pour and play in, and beans/rice for them to sift through and find hidden items in.

4. Wooden Toys – The first benefit of wooden toys is that they are BPA free, unlike most plastic toys. The second advantage is that they are incredibly durable and have been shown to last decades! I love these wooden sailboats and pretty much anything by Plan Toys.

5. Sticks and Rocks – Nature’s toys are good toys. My own kiddos always find something to do with sticks and rocks including sword fighting and building little forts. Last week we even painted some of the ones in our yard so now we have rainbow rocks and sticks. Using one’s imagination exercises the brain.

What are your favorite educational toys for kids?


Haba Board Games

by Tiffany in Natural Toys

The kids and I spent lots of time playing together over the weekend. After all, it is almost time to get back to the business of school. So, we kicked off the weekend by playing two new games. Monopoly and Battleship are okay I guess but my two smallest kiddos like to play something unique and usually something that involves animals. I like games that involve strategy and aren’t too commercial in nature. Both of these games were a perfect fit for us.

The first we played was Tier auf Tier. These games and the company that makes them are German, just another reason we like them! The standards for toy and game safety in Europe kicks US booty so I know I am relatively safe with their offerings. Haba has long been known as a great source for safe, more sustainable, natural toys.

The game box is actually what you use to play the game instead of a board. It is divided into 4 sections and you have a menagerie of wooden animals to place around each section on the box. The animals reminded us of our Haba Eene, Meene, Zoo blocks. They have the same adorable look and feel. A bridge crosses from one side of the box to the other and the object is to stack animals on top of the bridge trying to make the animal combinations on your playing cards. Since two to four players can be stacking at the same time it can be tricky to do. The first player who manages to complete all their animal stacking combos and discard the associated playing cards wins the game. It was fun for my younger kiddos and I think it will be a nice game for them to play with the neighbor kids before school starts next week.

The other game we played was an even bigger hit, with my two oldest and with me. It was so fun I wanted to keep playing again and again and it will likely be the game we break out to play with Dad over the holiday weekend. It is called Inspektor Hase, which means Inspector Rabbit in English.

The board game is a garden with a winding path and all throughout the bunny garden there are bandits! You roll the dice and move around the board to uncover the pairs of bandits… hens stealing jewels or moles walking off with gold coins. Each player has two matching bunnies and so when you uncover one of the bandits you can keep one bunny on that space while your other bunny moves around the board to capture the matching bandit. It is mostly a clever spin on memory but it also has a lot of strategy. There are two dice, one  that rolls between 1-3 and one that rolls between 1-6. You can roll one or both at the same time so half the trick is figuring out which die is mostly likely to get you where you need to be, the fastest. You can also boot other players off their space and beat them to the punch.

It is a really simple concept but it was a lot of fun… as are most Haba games we typically find. We enjoyed both of them quite a bit but in the spirit of Simplicity Parenting we will keep Inspektor Hase and donate the other to a needier family. Much thanks to Haba for sending these games our way!

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

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Eco Friendly and Sustainable Dollhouses

by Tiffany in Natural Toys

Eco Friendly and Sustainable DollhousesOne of the latest trends in greener, more planet friendly toys is the surge of sustainable dollhouses on the market. One reason for this, I think, is because wood dollhouses already have a HUGE advantage over cheapy plastic ones… they are more attractive and more like a real home. It is rare that I see a plastic dollhouse that actually catches my eye these days and I can’t say that for all plastic toys in general. But when it comes to doll houses and play kitchens… wood is far more attractive and far more eco friendly as a bonus. The modern day versions of eco friendly dollhouses are so darn cute it makes me want to play with them. Either that or hand one over to an architect and tell them to duplicate in a life size version.

Here are some my favorites that I have highlighted. One or two of these might still be in the future of my little girl (almost 7 now) but if not I doubt I will quit bookmarking them because they are so darn cute!

My FAVE has got to be the Bamboo Sunshine Dollhouse from HaPe International which makes those bamboo race cars I love so much. It is made of sustainable bamboo obviously, which is a grass that grows in 3 years, much faster than trees. It has a polished look that I love and this cute house is just adorable. It is rather pricey and all the furnishings come separately but this is more of an investment piece, something you will take care of. It can last for several generations if taken care of and it will be just as timeless tomorrow as it is today. I love the sleek design and lines, the WORKING solar panel, the real LED lights, the partitions, the winding staircase, and all the rooms. You can pack a lot of fun in this little house. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the gorgeous sets that can be bought for this including this greenhouse that can be used to grow REAL plants and herbs. Love, love, love this dollhouse. I wish it weren’t so spendy but this really is the Cadillac of eco dollhouses.

Another cute one is the Wonderworld Eco-Friendly Eco House. This one would be especially attractive to boys with the blue and green color scheme. What I like about it is that it is green – aka environmentally friendly rubber wood, non-toxic paints, dyes and lacquers and formaldehyde free glue – but also “pretend green” with solar panels, recycle bin, rain water collection system, and a wind turbine. The packaging is also made from 70% recycled materials.

It is a two story wooden playhouse that includes kitchen set, bedroom set, three wooden dolls and bathroom set as long as all the adorable features I mentioned above. The Eco range is part of Wonderworld’s new collection of products to educate children to the importance of recycling, saving energy and being friendly to our environment. The Eco House Wooden doll house comes complete with room settings and family. Themes include recycling, planting trees, solar panels, scooter and collecting rain water. I give it an A+.

After two rather pricey dollhouses this Krooom carboard dollhouse might be a breath of fresh air.

Fully foldable and completely flat in its package, no tools assembly. – Waterproof coating. Meets standards of moisture-resistance. – All graphics are applied with the highest quality printing. – Made of reinforced cardboard recycleable material. – Very strong and sturdy. – Environmental friendly. Free from hazardous substances. Corrugated board withstands top and side pressure, is crush resistant and has a high burst strength. It is impact, drop and vibration-resistant, yet light in weight. This would be an excellent dollhouse for a younger kiddo who might not take care of one of the nicer ones and it is an attractive budget option too.

Plan Toys is another fave brand of mine for kidlet toys and I like their Green Dollhouse with Furniture. Wonderful for older kids…  say 6 and up. Like the other above it is green on two counts. It is made from nontoxic natural materials such as organic rubberwood AND it has an energy efficient design that includes a wind turbine, a solar cell panel, and an electric inverter for generating electricity, a rain barrel for collecting rain. There is also a biofacade, which uses the natural cycle of plant growth to provide shading, and a blind that can adjust to the amount of sunlight and air circulation. Recycling bins are also included with the house. This dollhouse also comes with furniture for five rooms: Living room, kitchen, bathroom, children’s bedroom and master bedroom. This beautiful dollhouse and furniture are crafted from recycled, natural rubber wood, dyed with vegetable and soy dyes, and assembled in an earth-friendly process. The Plan Toys green dollhouse for younger kiddos (2-5) is here.

A rather atypical dollhouse would be this exclusive from Magic Cabin. It is a mushroom house for dolls or gnomes. The mushroom-shaped abode is perchance the most charming home for gnomes ever seen. The sturdy wooden two-story dollhouse comes with lots of perfectly sized accessories: table, two chairs, two beds, red-checked bedding and pillows, two evergreen trees and eleven animals. The posable dolls are handmade in Brazil with soft wool hair and stuffing and cotton clothes. I just love all the little forest animals!

Okay I was done but then I remembered another unique dollhouse I featured a few weeks back.. the Enchantmints Fairy Forest Lodge. It is a treehouse for dolls and is quite adorable if I do say so myself. I tried to score one of these for Christmas when Magic Cabin had these for half off! But alas they went in minutes and I wasn’t so lucky. My daughter loves fairies though so this may still be in the cards for us.

Do your little ones have an new eco friendly dollhouse or do you prefer second hand ones?


The Pile of People Puzzle

by Tiffany in Natural Toys

Pile of People Puzzle

One of the hot gifts for the upcoming year among the natural/green toys enthusiasts is the Pile of People Puzzle. I have been seeing variations of this basic theme everywhere.

They are wooden puzzle pieces in the shape of little men and these particlar fellas hail from Down to Earth Toys which specializes in natural toys. I have seen natural finishes (like above) and dark wood ones with varnish. These particular ones are made from reclaimed wood and are rubbed with mineral oil. They also have numbers on them to give them an educational bent as well. There are 18 of these little men with numbers carved on their chests. They are high quality too and will not break easily. Gotta love solid wood ya know?

My little guy needs to work on his motor skills and his numbers too so this is a fun toy for him. Plus what boy doesn’t LOVE to build? Perhaps it is due to his delays but he is only just now starting to play pretend with toys so these guys talk to each other while they practice their piling skills, and that is always fun to watch. In addition to stacking them you can also use them like you would dominoes or turn them number side down and play memory with them. A burlap sack comes with them so that they can be stored when not in play.

These are an excellent and simple toy for children and they are really opened ended too. If you love wood toys and minimalist toys then these are a winner.

Pile of People Puzzle

Much thanks to Down to Earth Toys for sending them our way for review!

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

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