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?
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!
Giveaway now CLOSED. The winner is Little Lamb! Thanks to all who entered!!
In honor of Spring the lovely Etsy artisans at Natural Kids have donated a gift basket of natural toys and goodies for one of my readers. It is so gorgeous that I don't want to pass it on.. I want to KEEP it but alas one of you will be the new owner! But really I want to add a disclaimer that all this can be yours except… this.. and this… and maybe that…
If you recall Natural Kids is a actually a group of artisans that make a wide array of toys and goodies that will feed your child's imagination. I interviewed them a few months back. They have everything from clothes and decor to toys, dolls, and crafts. The winner of this giveaway will get a nice basket with a red cloth liner filled with the following:
A Waldorf doll – Polar Bear Creations
A wooden mermaid doll – The Enchanted Cupboard
A wool baby in a bassinet – Fairy Folk
A wooden horse toy - Dad's Wooden Toys
A Rooster Pouch - Love a Little
2 Playsilks (one mint green and one multi-color) – The Polka Dot Dragon & Birch Leaf Designs
A cloth strawberry doll - Love a Little
A pair of organic cotton/hemp baby pants hand died green in a matching blue drawstring sack – Hand Full
Earthy stickers/decals (3 earth theme and 1 breastfeeding advocacy) – Elemental Handcrafts
2 photos of Waldorfs dolls and little cloth fairies – Love a Little
3 tubs of Mama K's Aromatic Play Clay - Mama K's
2 wool fairies with acorn caps (my fave item!!) – Hues of Nature
It has everything your kiddos need for hours of spring/summer fun!!
My daughter is going to be just like me I suspect when it comes to reading and writing… very passionate about both. Learning to read was her idea and every day she works on building her list of words she can spell, write, and read. In the car she spells random words, in the grocery store she tells the clerk about her spelling homework. She takes advantage of every opportunity she has to learn this whole reading and spelling thing and she finds it very fun to do. I wish it were that way for all my kids, but so far it is just her that finds excitement in writing and spelling.
I have reviewed a couple Natural Toys from Down to Earth Toys over the past year and when they contacted me to see what I might be interested in reviewing now, it was easy to choose the Spellmaster. It is a very unique educational toy that I knew my daughter would enjoy and I was not disappointed. She pulls her Spellmaster out 2-3 times daily to work with it for 30-60 minutes at a time and it has really helped her reach her learning goals.
Basically it is a platform for developing sequential memory skills, increasing memory span, improving letter recognition, and spelling simple to complex words.
When she uses her Spellmaster, she chooses a flash card with a word and picture first. She works through the word phonetically to find out what it is as the picture isn’t always a dead giveaway. Then she selects all the wooden letter tiles she needs, saying the letters out loud. Next she spells the word on the chalkboard panel below the tiles and then says the letters aloud again after she has written them, followed by the word. She also usually covers the tiles with the wooden flaps so that she can try to write the word from memory. Afterwards she moves on to the next card and she usually doesn’t stop until she has completed them all. It came with eight recommended steps in the instructions but she developed her own system of steps so we go with that. I knew she would like it but just how much she would like it surprised even me.
My nine year old son likes to use it for his spelling words as well and it is a fun, visual way to work on them rather than just having him write them over and over like the school suggests. Going through all the words on his spelling list 2-3 times is not to repetitive for him and using the Spellmaster makes it just a bit more interesting. The fact that they can hide the tiles and work from memory means they are more likely to learn from mistakes as well.
My three year old has taken a liking to the flashcards so we use those for some speech therapy at home. He was recently “upgraded” by his preschool teachers and therapists from a mere speech delay to a developmental delay. After going through the IEP with them I have to agree with much of their assessment so I am doing more to help him at home. I will have to write up a post about that whole issue later.
Anyway… I love that the Spellmaster is something my kids can pull out and use on their own or work through with me if they want. We make it a bit more challenging at times when I come up with a word there is no card for. You can use many variations to make it harder or easier depending on their spelling prowess. All the letter tiles are capital letters but you can order lowercase letters as well. You could probably come up with some small sentences if you had more tiles… aka See Jane Run. I looked for info on ordering different flash cards but didn’t see that info. I guess any flash cards would work though. There was no eraser for the chalkboard so my kids just grab a sherpa cloth to clean up with, easy peasy.
The actual unit is made of wood so it is MUCH more sustainable than comparable plastic toys and it is made by TAG and is just one of many Toys Made in the USA. It gets two enthusiastic thumbs up here.
Thanks Carrin and Down to Earth Toys for sending the Spellmaster our way!!
This is a blog for parents and as such we likely buy toys for our children. Dozens of times I have written about toys.. Natural and Safe Dolls, green toys, the best toddler toys, toys with PVC and phthalates, lead in toys, etc. I even wrote about Natural Toys and CPSIA a couple times and how that dangerous legislation could limit our access to the safest toys for our kids.
So color me outraged when I read an article from the Washingtom Examiner about how two major toy companies.. Mattel and Hasbro actually lobbied for this legislation. Why? Well, they would no doubt tell us it is to save our children from the dangers of lead and other unsafe things in toys. But my guess is that they want to put small, ethical toy makers out of business and limit our toy buying options. They know full well that most small toy makers, the same toy makers whose products were already safe, will not be able to absorb the costs associated with legislation like this. The real kicker is that Mattel is the company who kicked off the lead toys scare. THEY were the reckless and irresponsible company that reminded us we need to be careful of what our kids play with when THEY put thousands of lead laced toys on the market.
Another slap in the face for consumers is this piece from the Los Angeles Times. Check this out:
Toy makers, clothing manufacturers and other companies selling products for young children are submitting samples to independent laboratories for safety tests. But the nation’s largest toy maker, Mattel, isn’t being required to do the same.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently, and quietly, granted Mattel’s request to use its own labs for testing that is required under a law Congress passed last summer after a rash of recalls of toys contaminated by lead. Six of those toys were produced by Mattel Inc. and its Fisher-Price subsidiary.
The whole basis of this legislation was to take the control of toy safety testing out of the hands of the toy makers, since profits could be placed before toy safety. Now we find out that that the company who started all this is getting a free pass? They are immune to this law?!!
According to Mattel they should be treated special because:
It has demonstrated to the product safety agency that its products go through rigorous safety tests. Company spokeswoman Lisa Marie Bongiovanni also said that Mattel has an appropriate “fire wall” in place to ensure test results are protected from corporate influence.
“We have extremely qualified people who work feet away from our production lines,” Bongiovanni said. “It allows us to do more testing than any other toy company out there.”
So says the company that just agreed to pay a $2.3-million civil penalty for violating the lead paint ban. Sounds reasonable… NOT!
There are numerous reasons why we don’t need the over marketed, hyped up, low quality, plastic junk that they sell anyway but this is yet another reason. As consumers we need to send our money to ethical toy companies that REALLY care about the safety of our kids. They need our support now more than ever.
Are you committed to buying quality natural toys from ethical companies? Comment below and tell me what and where you are buying… inquiring minds would like to know.