Category: Cool Stuff for Kids

Play Power!

A few years ago, I wrote a cover story for Scholastic’s SuperScience magazine called “The Power of Play.” The story explored the benefits of free play, or unstructured play—something kids are unfortunately getting way too little of these days.

With pressure mounting to increase students’ test scores and grades, more and more schools are cutting back on recess or eliminating it altogether. Kids’ schedules are also filling up with homework and extracurricular activities. As a result, “play is disappearing from the lives of children,” Joan Hoffman, a play expert at Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, told me at the time.

And that’s a huge problem. Research has shown that play has all sorts of physical, social, and cognitive benefits for kids. It helps children develop many of the skills they’ll need to be successful adults.

Through play, kids learn problem-solving skills, critical thinking, decision-making, and teamwork. Play allows them to act out their fears and emotions and teaches them empathy and understanding. Play builds kids’ confidence, boosts their creativity, and reduces their stress. It also helps them develop strong and healthy bodies, which is so important in the fight against childhood obesity. Research has even found that play helps kids perform better in school by improving their concentration. And I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. If you don’t believe me, watch this video to see the power of play in action:

The video is part of the Toy Industry Association‘s Genius of Play campaign, which seeks to spread the word about the importance of play. I recently took the campaign’s Play Pledge, meaning I’ve committed to support Matt, Nate, and Lily with opportunities to play every week.

It’s something I was already doing anyway. I have never been one to overschedule my kids with too many structured activities, especially during the summer. And that has allowed their imaginations to blossom.

The boys like to turn Lily’s Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Home into a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through window, then have me “drive” up and place my order. They arrange their Hot Wheels cars and action figures into elaborate parades. They raid their dress-up bin and transform themselves into astronauts and superheroes. They pretend our backyard is the zoo, weaving in and out of the shrubs to see all the “animals.”

And Lily already loves it when I sit back and let her explore. Every time she pushes buttons on her toys to hear sounds, stuffs the boys’ Star Wars figures into her toy fishbowl, or taps the LEGO Duplos against her xylophone to make music, her mind is bursting with new discoveries.

So click here to join me in taking the Play Pledge to ensure your children get enough play time each week. Better yet, get down on the floor and play with them!

And to learn more about the Toy Industry Association, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by the Toy Industry Association. All of the information is research-based and factual!

Back to School with PlanetBox

When the twins started preschool last year, I was introduced to the crazy world of making school lunches. The boys only go to school three days a week, yet it didn’t take long for me to run out of fresh ideas. I mean, how many PB&J’s and cheese quesadillas could I make?

So I started putting together lunches using little things the boys like to eat—fruit, carrot sticks, cheese and crackers, hummus, etc. Not only did that leave me with a ton of tiny containers to wash, but the boys would often come home with half of their lunch uneaten. They’d say they ran out of time to eat, partly because it took them so long to open everything.

That’s when I realized why so many moms and kids love bento-style lunchboxes. These sectioned lunchboxes make meals visually appealing, help you pack a well-balanced lunch, make it easier for kids to eat, and create less waste.

I tried different styles of bento boxes, but it was hard to find one that works for us. Some have too few sections, others are too deep, etc. Then I saw this post from Catherine McCord of Weelicious, in which she showcases some of the fabulous bento lunches she makes for her kids. Immediately, I started pining for the lunchbox in the photos. It’s called the PlanetBox Rover, and when I was recently given the opportunity to test one out for review, I jumped at the chance.

PlanetBox is a high-quality stainless steel lunchbox that keeps foods fresh and well-portioned. It comes in three sizes and can be personalized with fun magnets and a range of accessories.

The Rover, which holds 4.5 cups of food and measures 10 x 7 x 1.5, is the most popular model. It has five sections: one large square one (perfect for a sandwich), a longer skinny one to hold a cheese stick or other small items, two medium-sized ones, and a small one in the middle that’s perfect for a small treat. It also comes with a Big Dipper and a Little Dipper, round lidded containers that can hold dips, sauces, yogurt, and other wet foods.

The magnets for the rover come in 29 fun designs and have space to write the lunchbox owner’s name. We chose the Rockets design.

Planetbox Rover with rocket magnets

You can also get a carry bag for the Rover with a water bottle pouch and a snack pocket on the outside, as well as an inner mesh pocket. The bag has a short handle and an adjustable strap. We got a blue bag.

As soon as the PlanetBox arrived, we were sold! Matt and Nate immediately started fighting over who would get to eat lunch from it, so I immediately ordered another one—same magnets, but with a red carry bag. As soon as that one arrived, the boys begged me to make their lunches in their PlanetBoxes even though we weren’t going anywhere. Here’s what I cobbled together:

Bento-style school lunch in a Planetbox RoverI put the yogurt in one of the main compartments and not in the Little Dipper (where the crackers are) since we were eating at home. The boys loved it, and it was the quickest they have ever finished their lunch!

Suffice it to say, Matt and Nate can’t wait for school to start so they can carry their cool new lunchboxes. I think I’ll have a lot more fun packing their lunches, and cleanup will be so much easier—I can pop them in the dishwasher! Also, the boxes are BPA-, phthalate-, and lead-free, so I know they’re safe for the boys. Click here for some other things that make PlanetBox great.

Now, here’s the thing: PlanetBox is pricey. The Rover sells for $49.95, the magnets are $3.95, and the carry bag is $12 to $14. That makes the whole set around $70. But I honestly feel it is well worth it for a lunchbox that is such high-quality and will last for years and years. Plus, PlanetBox can easily be handed down simply by switching out the magnets.

To build your own personal PlanetBox, click here. In addition to magnets and a carry bag, you can add a water bottle and accessories such as utensils and cold packs. And if you need meal ideas, get them here! Happy lunch-making!

Disclosure: I received a free PlanetBox with magnets and a carry bag for my review. All opinions in this post are my own!

Show Your Team Spirit with Softjox

Last month at Sweet Suite, I saw so many amazing, high-tech new toys that I am really excited to tell you about in the coming months. But sometimes, in a sea of gadgets and gizmos, it’s the simplest toys that bring kids so much joy.

One such toy is Softjox, a new line of customizable plush sports characters that I and the twins have fallen in love with. Designed by a dad with two active young athletes, the inaugural Softjox line features super-soft and cuddly football characters that come in four colors—blue, red, green, and black. They are available in two sizes, 15 inches and 20 inches, and can be customized with any name and number on the back. There is also a 17-inch purple soccer character.

Matt and Nate were absolutely beside themselves when Softjox’s owner—who happens to be the nicest guy ever—sent them their very own 20-inch football guys. Matt picked number 23—Keith’s baseball jersey number in high school—and Nate picked 19, his birthday. Matt chose red and Nate picked blue (their respective favorite colors). Check these guys out:

Two Softjox plush football charactersNate and Matt Softjox plush football characters

Aren’t they awesome??? The boys just love them and have been sleeping with them every night. And every morning, they come downstairs toting their Softjox guys in their arms.

Here is a photo of the boys a couple of nights ago getting ready for bed with their football pals:

Happy boys holding Softjox plush football characters

I mean, do you see those smiles??? After I snapped this picture, they insisted I take another photo so they could show off their names:

Happy twins holding Softjox plush football characters

Then, as is typical, Softjox just had to join in on the boys’ bedtime story with Dad:

A father reads a bedtime story two twin boys and their Softjox plush football characters.

And then they made us tuck their Softjox guys into bed with them. I was going to sneak in later to take photos, but I was worried I’d wake the boys up. But just picture those round helmets sticking out from under the covers and you can imagine how cute the scene was.

Softjox would make the perfect gift for any sports fan for holidays, birthdays, or any other occasion. They are also available to special order with the name or logo of your organization on them. That makes them great for sports teams and leagues, schools, promotions, fundraisers, and even special party favors.

What’s even more exciting is that more sports characters will be released soon—baseball, basketball, hockey, and even cheerleaders! Matt and Nate are so excited for the baseball guys to come out so they can get those, too.

I write about many products I like on this blog, but seriously, I am so beyond excited to share Softjox with you all. Any sports fan, young or old, would just love one. It’s such a simple, yet unique toy that could really become a special friend in a child’s life. Plus, as I mentioned, the owner could not be a nicer guy, so it just feels great to support his growing business.

The 15-inch football character and the 17-inch soccer player cost $19.95, and the 20-inch football character for $29.95. Customization costs $7.95. And for a limited time, Softjox is offering free priority shipping and a 100-percent money-back guarantee on all orders.

Click here to purchase your own Softjox character. Then be sure to take a photo of your child with his or her new pal and share it with Softjox on Instagram!

Disclosure: I received Matt and Nate’s Softjox characters free of charge in exchange for my honest review, but all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.

My Amazing Experience at Blogger Bash 2015

Several months ago, an invitation to Blogger Bash landed in my inbox. Blogger Bash is an annual event that connects hundreds of bloggers, vloggers, and social media professionals to more than 100 lifestyle brands.

I spent weeks going back and forth about whether I should purchase a ticket. After all, this blog makes up just a small portion of my part-time freelance writing career. But I finally decided to take the plunge. After all, Blogger Bash was set to take place in New York City—my city—on July 16 and 17. My sister-in-law, Pat, came to watch the kids, and my cousin Kim let me stay at her apartment (which just so happens to be within walking distance of Pier Sixty, the gorgeous venue at which the event took place). And I was excited for the opportunity to make connections and meet other bloggers.

So on Wednesday afternoon, July 15, I hopped on  an Amtrak train to New York. The next few days were a whirlwind of parties, information sessions, and meet-and-greets. And now that I’m back home and have had some time to gather my thoughts, I cannot describe how thrilled I am that I decided to go. I met so many wonderful people, made valuable connections with amazing brands (some of which I am already working with), learned so much about the blogging world, ate delicious food, and had a great time! Here is a recap:

DAY ONE:

Care Bears Share Your Care Brunch

Day one began with the Care Bears Share Your Care Brunch, where I took the #ShareYourCare Oath and became an official #ShareYourCare ambassador. (Puffing my chest out with pride!)

Care Bears #ShareYourCare ambassador badgeI learned all about the new series “Care Bears & Cousins,” coming to Netflix November 6, as well as a new line of adorable plush toys. The highlight for me, though, was meeting 10-year-old Zach Kaplan, who was honored with Care Bears’ first #ShareYourCare Ambassador Award for his commitment to helping others through philanthropy. Last year he raised over $1,200 for Typhoon Haiyan relief, and this year he is collecting stuffed animals to hand out to homeless kids in New York City. Of all the young philanthropists I have met through my writing for Scholastic, Zach is one of the greatest. Learn more about him here!

Blue Man Group performance

Having lived in New York City for nearly 30 years of my life, I’m lucky to have seen many Broadway and off-Broadway musicals and plays. But one show I never had the pleasure of seeing was Blue Man Group. So I was thrilled to learn that Blue Man Group would be doing a special performance just for Blogger Bash attendees at the intimate Astor Place Theatre.

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group blends music, comedy, and technology into a dynamic, fun, and wacky performance. There wasn’t a single dull moment during the show. Afterward, we were treated to a Q&A with Creative Director (and longtime Blue Man) Randall Jaynes. I even got to take a photo with one of the Blue Men! Don’t we look cute together?

A woman poses with a member of the Blue Man Group

Stay tuned for a more in-depth review of Blue Man Group. I will also be giving away a 4-pack of tickets to any Blue Man Group performance in New York, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, or any national tour stop!

Sweet Suite 2015

After Blue Man Group, we returned to Pier Sixty for Sweet Suite 2015, also known as the Biggest Night of Play. And boy, did I play! Nearly 100 toy companies were there displaying their hot holiday toys for 2015, many of which have not even hit shelves yet. Here are just a few photo highlights:

My new friend Katrina of Tots Network and I grabbed some yummy cocktails on the way in!

Two ladies hold cocktails in front of a #BBNYC backdrop

This lovely lady and a few of her friends greeted us!

A costume woman on stilts holds a giant lollipop at Blogger Bash

And now for my favorite holiday toy, hitting stores later this year: Playmobil is releasing a new NHL line! The initial line will include a hockey arena, zambonis, referees, the Stanley Cup, and players from the original six NHL teams. We all know which players Matt and Nate will want. (Let’s Go Rangers!!!)

Playmobil hockey rink and players

Another favorite of mine was Wicked Cool Toys‘ Girl Scouts Cookie oven, set to arrive this fall. Kids can make popular Girl Scout Cookie flavors including Thin Mints, Trefoils, and more!

A woman holds a toy spatula in front of a Girl Scout Cookie Oven

There are so many more amazing toys coming out this year, but I don’t want to give them all away at once. I can’t wait to share them with you in the coming weeks, and I’ll also have some handy Holiday Gift Guides for you starting in October!

DAY TWO:

Disney Infinity Breakfast

Day two began with the Disney Infinity Breakfast, where we were among the first to play the new Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition, coming soon. Star Wars joins Disney, Pixar, and Marvel for this latest installment of the toy/video game hybrid. What a great way to start the day!

A still shit from the new Disney Infinity Star Wars game

All-Day Expo and Rite Aid Recharge Lounge

After the breakfast, Katrina and I headed over to the All-Day Expo to get to know more amazing brands. Some of my favorites—which I will write more about in later posts—were Alex’s Lemonade Stand, Kolibree, and Crunch Live.

By that point, our backs and legs were starting to hurt from all of the amazing swag we’d been receiving. Good thing for the Rite Aid Recharge Lounge, where we got to recharge both our and our phones’ batteries! At the lounge—which offered sweeping Hudson River views—we indulged in delicious chocolate, drank refreshing beverages, and received amazing beauty kits filled with top brands like Maybelline, Neutrogena, and Physicians Formula. Many bloggers also indulged in free massages!

Rite Aid Recharge Lounge at Blogger Bash

Baby Palooza

Next up was Baby Palooza, where we connected with top baby brands and learned about some amazing products for infants. Brands included Fisher-Price, Gund, TOMY, and more. Once again, I will be sharing some of those amazing products with you in future blog posts, so stay tuned!

For me, though, the highlight of Baby Palooza was meeting legendary baby photographer Anne Geddes. She even signed a board book full of her beautiful photos for me!

Photographer Anne Geddes

Peanuts Keynote Lunch

We then headed over to the Peanuts Keynote Lunch. This event was truly a blast! We got to meet the young stars of THE PEANUTS MOVIE, which hits theaters November 6. They were so cute and charming! I just can’t wait for the movie to come out.

We received amazing Peanuts swag bags filled with some awesome products, including all laundry detergent, Horizon Organic mac and cheese and other treats, a Hallmark Snoopy ornament, and more.

Oh, and I met Snoopy! Swoon!

A woman poses with a Snoopy character at Blogger Bash

After the lunch, I headed back over to the All-Day Expo to meet with some more brands. By that point, I was pretty exhausted. I spent some time at a health and wellness event hosted by Rene Syler of Good Enough Mother, checked out a fashion show, and popped into a closing carnival sponsored by Canadian Lentils. I was too tired to take photos at that point, but there were ladies hanging from chandeliers and serving drinks. Really!

Blogger Bash was such an amazing event, and I am so awed by all of the hard work and detail that went into it. Thank you to all of the sponsors, the staff, and the incredible hosts: Laurie Schacht of the Toy Insider, Joey Fortman of Real Mom Media, and Charlene DeLoach of Charlene Chronicles. I can’t wait for Blogger Bash 2016!

Product Review: “The Ultimate Disney Party Book”

Remember when I hosted the “Cars”-themed Disney Side @Home Celebration? I could have really used “The Ultimate Disney Party Book,” a brand-new book that contains more than 65 recipes, crafts, games, and more to help you throw eight Disney-themed parties. If your child loves Disney, this book will take all the stress out of planning the perfect birthday party for him or her.

"The Ultimate Disney Party Book"

The eight party themes featured in the book are “Aladdin,” Disney princess, “Toy Story,” Mickey and Minnie, “Monsters, Inc.,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Planes,” and Captain Hook. The book gives detailed instructions on how to make everything from invitations to decor to entertainment to fit each theme.

There are projects for people with all levels of craftiness. Some of the items, like Ariel’s Follow-Your-Heart Fruit Skewers, are super easy to make. Others, like the Buzz Lightyear birthday cake, are very involved and difficult. But all of the ideas are really clever and unique and will leave your guests seriously impressed.

Each idea in the book is accompanied by gorgeous, colorful photos, making it really fun to read. Matt and Nate have already spent lots of time looking through it. They’re having a hard time believing it’s actually a book for grown-ups.

Here are my favorite projects from the book:

  • Flying carpet invitations and caramel apples resembling Abu for the “Aladdin” party
  • Cinderella’s glass slipper invitations and Rapunzel’s golden braid garland for the Disney princess party
  • Woody’s cowboy boot favors and Cheezy Wheezy stuffed olives for the “Toy Story” party
  • Homemade Mickey and Minnie Mouse ears and Mickey Mouse sandwich cookies for the Mickey and Minnie party
  • Mike Wazowski spoon puppets and Terry and Terri Terrifying Flatbread Sandwiches for the “Monsters, Inc.” party
  • Plane candy favors and Dusty Crophopper cupcakes for the “Planes” party
  • Pirate flag pennant and Skull Rock watermelon fruit salad for the Captain Hook party

But my favorite party theme in the book is “Wreck-It Ralph” because the ideas are all so fun and different. From the Fix-It Felix, Jr. arcade game invitations to the “I’m Gonna Wreck It!” penthouse pinata to Vanellope’s race car brownies, the details in this party are amazing.

I can’t wait for Matt, Nate, and Lily’s future birthday parties so I can put some of these ideas to good use and show my Disney side! You can take a peek inside the book in this YouTube video and purchase your own copy on Amazon. If you decide to throw any of the parties, let me know how it turns out!

Disclosure: I received a free copy of “The Ultimate Disney Party Book” for my review. All opinions in this post are my own!

Shopping Via Text Message!

I can’t remember the last time I bought myself anything. With three little ones, I never have time to shop. When I do manage to drag the kids to the mall, it’s nearly impossible to browse the racks in peace.

Moms Sara Peak and Whitney Nordmoe had the same problem. So they created a way for busy parents (and busy everyone) to shop in the easiest manner imaginable—via text message! They started Dean & Grace, a shopping club that allows you to buy unique and high-quality kids’ and adults’ clothing, accessories, jewelry, and more via text. And it’s totally free to join.

deangracewebHere’s how it works: Click here to fill out a quick style quiz that will tell Dean & Grace what kind of items you’re interested in buying. You can also text “Join DG” to 76000, and you’ll receive the signup link via text. Once that’s done, you’ll get a text whenever an item you may like is for sale. If you want it, reply “WANT.” And that’s it—it’s yours! How much easier than that can you get?

Shipping is always free at Dean & Grace, and the items are unique and high-quality. You also won’t get bombarded with text messages: The amount you receive is based on inventory and the number of categories you signed up for. (If you sign up for just one style—say, boy playwear—you can expect about one text per week.) And you can opt out of receiving texts at any time by replying “STOP.”

I signed up two days ago for clothing for the boys and Lily and got my first text today. It was for this awesome kids’ “Free to Be Me” shirt from Blue Eyes and Bare Feet Designs, selling for $18. How cool is it?

Free to Be Me

I’m pretty excited to be a member of Dean & Grace and to have access to this unique and convenient way of shopping. Visit deanandgrace.com/#!style/ctdl to give it a try yourself. If you put “Jennifer W.” in the “Referred By” line, I’ll get credit and you’ll get good karma. It’s a win-win!

Happy shopping! If you get anything cool from Dean & Grace, let me know, and I’ll be sure to do the same!

 

Boogies Be Gone!

Like so many others, I’ve suffered from seasonal allergies since I was a kid. When we were getting ready to move to Northern Virginia, many people warned me that my allergies would likely be worse here. They were right. And unfortunately, Matt and Lily seem to have gotten hit pretty hard, too.

Couple that with the boys starting preschool and catching every cold under the sun (and then passing it to Lily), there’s been a lot of stuffy, runny noses in this house.

Luckily, I’ve amassed a powerful trifecta for dealing with congestion in my kids and helping them breathe easier. Here are my three favorite products:

Boogie Mist. When the kids are really stuffy, I spray this gentle, non-medicated saline mist up their noses to help thin out thick mucus. It comes in fresh, grape, or unscented formulas. We prefer the unscented.

Boogie Mist

NoseFrida Snotsucker nasal aspirator. This thing is not nearly as gross as it sounds, and I’m telling you—it works wonders. It allows you to suck the snot right out of your kids’ noses using a mouthpiece attached to a long tube. A filter in the tube prevents any mucus from getting in your mouth, keeping things completely hygienic. Trust me—I have a weak stomach and I use this all the time. It helps the kids breathe better when they’re sick and keeps them from walking around with snot dripping out of their noses. Matt and Nate are getting bigger now, but even they ask me to “suction” them when they’re really congested.

NoseFrida

 

Boogie Wipes. You know when kids’ noses run and they get that crusty snot all around their nostrils? Boogie Wipes contain saline that helps dissolve that mucus and makes it easier to clean it up. They also contain aloe, chamomile, and Vitamin E to help soothe and moisturize the skin. That means no more red, irritated noses. Like Boogie Mist, Boogie Wipes come in grape and fresh scent or unscented. We prefer unscented. They come in handy little packs of 10, 30, or 45 to toss in your diaper bag, or you can get a large canister of 90 to keep at home.

Boogie Wipes

Luckily, the kids have been snot-free this month, so we haven’t had much use for these products. But they’re ready and waiting if and when they are needed.

To learn more about Boogie Mist and Boogie wipes, and to get a money-saving coupon, click here.

Read more about NoseFrida here.

If you decide to try any of these products, leave a comment and let me know what you think!