Category: Cool Stuff for Kids

A Monthly Box Subscription for Brick and LEGO Lovers

If you know a LEGO and/or building fanatic ages 6 and up, you need to know about Brick Loot. Created last year by 10-year-old Parker Krex (then 9), Brick Loot is a monthly box subscription that sends subscribers four to eight of the newest—and coolest—brick and building products each month. Though Brick Loot‘s partners include some of the biggest names in the toy industry—OYO Sports, Nanoblocks, and BrickForge, to name a few—the contents include unique items you won’t find at big-name toy stores. In the voice of Cousin Eddie in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,it’s the gift that keeps on giving!”

The company recently sent me its May box to review. Though the twins are not yet 4, they are just starting to dabble with “big-kid” LEGO bricks, so they got super excited when the blue Brick Loot box arrived!

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Here’s what was inside:

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Check out all of that awesome loot! Nate, who seems to have inherited his grandpa’s watch obsession, immediately claimed the Brick Watch and proudly wore it around the house the rest of the day (despite it being about three sizes too big on him). And Matt was thrilled to see the custom Vermin Man minifigure.

The Mostaix Mosaic Art Kit was super cool, and challenging even for me! The kit consists of a plastic grid and tiny, colored plastic brick tiles of different shapes. Using the included picture—in this case, a fish—as a guide, you have to snap the tiles onto the grid to make the picture (no glue or ironing necessary). The tiles were too small for the boys to handle easily, so I put together the mosaic myself. It took about an hour and a half. The boys now have it hanging in their playroom, and I felt a sense of satisfaction at having finished it—a win-win! There are many different Mostaix kits to choose from and you can reuse the tiles to create your own pictures, so they really do provide hours of entertainment.

The box also came with a Mosaic Brick Kit—including bricks of various colors, shapes, and sizes—and base plates with which to create your own mosaic. Brick Loot asked builders to take photos of their mosaics and upload them to the company’s Facebook page for a chance to win a free 3-month subscription to Brick Loot. The boys were instead content to build their own creations with the pieces. Nate made a “chemical fortress” for the enclosed minifigure and Matt made a school. I was really happy to see them being creative and using their imaginations.

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Plus, it gave me time to put together the final set that came in the box—”Wing Warriors.”

The “Wing Warriors” set allows you to build a plane three different ways with the included bricks and instructions. I was challenged enough building it one way, so I just left it at that. My only complaint is that the bricks didn’t stay together very well, so the minute each boy touched the plane to inspect it, it fell apart. But again, Matt and Nate are under the recommended age minimum for the box, so an older kid with gentler hands might not have as much of a problem.

Overall, the boys and I had a blast playing with our Brick Loot box on a rainy day. I definitely plan to buy them a subscription when they’re older if their interest in building continues. The prices aren’t bad, either—$27 for one month, $25 per month for three months, and $23 per month for six months. The hours of quiet fun your kids will have—and the surprise of seeing what’s in their box each month—is well worth it. Plus, I am all about supporting a kid entrepreneur!

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Let me know if you decide to give Brick Loot a try, and be sure to tell me what you think! Happy building!

GIVEAWAY: “Big Tractors with Casey & Friends” Book and Toy

Know a young tractor fan? He or she will love the new “Casey & Friends” book series published by Octane Press. The books give kids a glimpse into life on a farm and the machines of modern agriculture. They are geared toward kids ages 4 to 8, but I think even younger tractor buffs would enjoy them. The author—educator and national curriculum writer Holly Dufek—joined Pixar “Cars” artist Paul Nunn to help kids make the connection with farm equipment and the food they eat.

We received a copy of the second book in the series, “Big Tractors with Casey & Friends,” to review. The book was released last month. We also received a CASE IH Magnum 370 CVT tractor toy.

Matt and Nate have never shown great interest in tractors specifically, but they’ve always been big fans of vehicles in general. They both got really excited when they saw the toy tractor. They did the typical routine—fought over it, had it taken away, and finally agreed to take turns playing with it. Luckily it seems to be really well made, so it stood up to the yanking quite nicely!

CASEIH Tractor Toy

Then we settled in to read the book. The boys were drawn in by the real photos of iconic red CASE IH tractors and the descriptions of the tractors’ parts. A cast of cartoon characters, led by a little girl named Casey, explains all of the tractors’ jobs and how they work. Each page has a sidebar with fun farming facts.

A Year on the Farm-cover

The first “”Casey & Friends” book, “A Year on the Farm with Casey & Friends,” was released in January. Two more—”Combines with Casey & Friends” and “Planters & Cultivators with Casey & Friends“—come out in June and September of this year.

And now, here’s the fun part—giveaway time! Octane Press is celebrating the launch of the “Casey & Friends” series by giving a copy of “Big Tractors with Casey & Friends” and a CASE IH Magnum 370 CVT tractor toy to one lucky Double Duty Twins reader and a special kid in his or her life.

The contest is open to all U.S. residents. To enter, like Double Duty Twins on Facebook or follow the blog on Instagram at @jmwalters718. Then leave a comment here OR on the Double Duty Twins Facebook or Instagram pages telling me who you’d like to win the book and toy for. I’ll choose a winner at random on May 31.

Good luck!

UPDATE: The winner of the book and tractor toy is Amanda Evey! Thank you to all who entered, and congratulations to Amanda. Please check back for more exciting giveaways to come!

Family Pizza Night!

Hi there! It’s been a super busy month for us. Now that the weather is (finally) getting nicer, we’ve been having fun exploring our new city, making friends, and just being out in the fresh air. We’ve been preparing for Lily’s Baptism, which is this Sunday. I’ve also been working a lot!

As many of you know, I am now a regular contributor for Care.com, a website with over 13 million members that connects families with caregivers. It’s where we’ve found our wonderful nannies! I write parenting articles for the site, including one about how to travel with kids and stay sane (a topic I’ve tackled before on this blog).

In between all of that work and play, the kids and I (and sometimes Keith) have been testing a ton of awesome products that I’ll be reviewing for you all on this blog in the coming weeks. For one such review, Rustic Crust, which makes organic and all-natural pizza crust and sauce, hosted a family pizza night for us. I was thrilled because it’s so hard for me to get a nutritious dinner on the table that both the grown-ups and kids will enjoy.

Here’s what the company sent us:

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We did our pizza night on a Friday evening, when we often order pizza and watch a movie. We tried two of the crusts—the Crispy Italian Thin Crust and the Cheesy Herb Pizza Crust. Rustic Crust also sent us three packs of sauce, which took the guesswork out of how much sauce to use (one pack per pizza). Since I’m Italian American, of course I already had mozzarella and grated Romano cheese on hand, so it really couldn’t have been any easier.

The twins had a blast helping me make the pizzas—rubbing olive oil on the crusts, spreading the sauce, sprinkling the cheese on top, etc. We used shredded part-skim mozzarella on one crust and sliced fresh mozzarella on the other. We also put grated Romano cheese, minced garlic, and fresh basil on both. Then I popped them in the oven and baked them for 10 minutes, and that was it—dinner was served! Here’s how they came out:

IMG_8635 IMG_8638We had even more fun eating the pizza than we did making it:

IMG_8643 IMG_8645 We forgot to get a picture of Keith eating his pizza, but his mouth was likely too full to pose, anyway.

The verdict? Yummy! Now, I must disclose that I really don’t have a comparison point for the pizza because we never make pizzas at home. I am a pizza snob from Brooklyn and I have a dad who makes amazing homemade pizza, so I never really attempt to replicate his or any of the other amazing slices I’ve eaten. So I can’t speak to how Rustic Crust compares to other packaged pizza crusts or sauces.

But, for organic crusts made with real, non-GMO ingredients and no artificial preservatives, these were quite tasty! I’d certainly make them again for the convenience alone. The Cheesy Herb crust had a great taste, but the good old thin crust was yummy as well. The sauce was good, too! (I probably would have put a little more on each crust than was in the pouch, but that may have made the pizza soggy, so what do I know?)

We never got to make a pizza with the Sea Salt & Basil Ciabatta, but I found that it made a yummy standalone snack!

Give Rustic Crust a try for your next family pizza night. There are several varieties of crust, and they’re available for purchase at various grocery stores across the nation, including Whole Foods. If you do decide to try them, let me know what you think!

 

 

Our Disney Side @Home Celebration

I’ve been a huge Disney fan since I was a kid. During our 15 months in Southern California, I passed that love on to Matt and Nate by taking them to Disneyland no less than 10 times. (Keith and I had annual passports, and the boys got in free since they were under 3 at the time.)

Naturally, I was thrilled to be one of the bloggers selected by Disney Parks and MomSelect to host a Disney Side @Home Celebration. For the celebration, I received a party kit full of awesome free products from some amazing sponsors. My kit’s theme was Disney Cars, one of the twins’ favorite movies. Here’s what it contained:

  • Tons of fun Cars party decorations, including napkins, cups, plates, a tablecloth, treat boxes, and more
  • A Wilton Mickey Mouse cake pan, a Duff Goldman by Gartner Studios Tie Dye cake mix, and colorful Wilton sprinkles (with which I attempted to make a Mickey cake and failed miserably—see the photo at the end of this post)
  • Disney-themed games and activities, including “Pin the smile on Mickey Mouse,” Bingo, paper fortune-tellers, and more
  • Goodies for the kids: Cars place mats, chore charts, Crayola crayons, fun prizes including a Mega Bloks Hot Wheels building set and a Disney puzzle, and more
  • Goodies for the moms: HP CMYK (Create Memories You Keep) Packs containing HP photo paper and envelopes, Twinings Tea from Twinings of London, Disney luggage tags, and Beyond Meat coupons
  • Goodies for me: A giant tub of All detergent Mighty Pacs and samples of Wisk Deep Clean detergent and Snuggle Scent Boosters fabric softener (By the way, I love the Mighty Pacs. They are way more easy and convenient than pumping or pouring out liquid detergent and dripping it all over my floor. I just make sure to keep them out of reach of the kids, since detergent pods can be dangerous if little ones ingest them.)

We received the party kit in late January, and the boys had a blast opening it. Since we were required to have the party in January or February and didn’t have much time to plan, I decided to turn it into a giant play date for some of the new friends they’ve made since moving to Virginia a few months ago. I figured it was a good excuse for the mommies to get together as well. And because we’ve had a pretty brutal winter and everyone is going a bit stir crazy, we had an awesome turnout for a Tuesday afternoon—13 kids and seven moms!

I set up a fun party table with some of the goodies we got. The Cars cupcake tower I received in my party kit served as a display for the kids’ treat boxes that also came in the kit. (I filled them with Cars stickers and inexpensive Cars fruit snacks I found at the grocery store.)

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Since the party was at 1:30 pm and everyone had eaten lunch already, I kept it simple and put out some light snacks such as carrots and hummus, pretzels, and veggie straws. Luckily, my friend Amber livened it up a bit with the fun Mickey-shaped Jell-O treats you see at the front of the table!

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It doesn’t take much to entertain a bunch of 3- and 4-year-olds, so I kept the activities simple by pulling out pretty much any Cars-themed item the boys own. We had coloring books, puzzles, and magnetic scenes.

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I set up the boys’ Cars cars on the train table.

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I also set up little coloring stations around the house with the Crayola crayons that came in the party kit and some Cars coloring sheets I happened to have. They were a huge hit!

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We even got some of the bigger kids to play “Pin the Smile on Mickey Mouse,” though they refused to be blindfolded and simply stuck their smiles onto the correct spot on Mickey’s face.

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Overall, our Disney Side @Home Celebration was a blast for the kids and grown-ups alike! Unfortunately it was so hectic (in a good way!) that I didn’t get a chance to take many photos of the kids, but that’s a sign of a fun party!

Also, though my Duff Goldman Mickey cake was delish (I swear!), it … um … didn’t end up looking so great. (I am not a baker!) Since many other Disney Side hosts have been posting pictures of their gorgeous bakery-like Mickey cakes, I thought I’d put myself out there and post a photo of my monstrosity:

IMG_8544Hahahahahaha! My cake may have been an epic fail, but our party was a big success—and that’s all that matters! We all had a great time showing our Disney side! Thank you, Disney Parks and MomSelect, for this fun opportunity!

If you want to host your own Disney Side Celebration, visit disneysidecelebrations.com for lots of great theme ideas, recipes, activities, and inspiration!

I received free products in order to host a Disney Side @Home Celebration. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Biscotti and Kate Mack: Pretty Dresses for Pretty Girls

I’m sure all you mamas of girls can relate: Lily is 5 months old, and I’m having a ton of fun dressing her up in all of her pretty clothes. (Seriously, you should see her closet. She has a larger wardrobe than I do.) I can’t wait for a special occasion so I’ll have an excuse to put her in a fancy, frilly dress.

And when that fancy occasion does come, I’ll know just where to turn to find that extra-special princess dress: Biscotti and Kate Mack. This company—a favorite of celebrities like Katie Holmes and Heidi Klum—makes beautiful, fun, frilly dresses and swimsuits for babies and girls size 3 months to 14. The clothing is available in luxury department stores including Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Saks, and more; at specialty boutiques across the nation and overseas; and at biscottiandkatemack.com.

Biscotti and Kate Mack sent me a gorgeous pink dress to try on Lily, and it’s absolutely stunning! I am so impressed by the level of detail. The top of the dress has six pretty flowers with tiny pearls and crystals in the center. The bottom has layers of gorgeous tulle cascading down, and there’s a tulle ribbon to tie in the back. Lily looked, quite simply, like a princess. (She squealed in delight the whole time she was wearing it, meaning she already knows a pretty dress when she sees one!)

The only catch? The dress was very short on Lily. It was size 9 months, which is the size she currently wears. So if you have a tall girl like mine (she was in the 90th percentile for height at her last appointment), I’d probably go a size up in Biscotti.

Here’s Lily modeling her Biscotti dress. What do you think?

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An Easy, Inexpensive Way to Measure Little Feet

A friend once told me a story about how her son’s teacher noticed he was limping one day at school. The teacher thought he may have gotten injured. After some investigation and a visit to the shoe store, my friend discovered the problem—his shoes were a size and a half too small! Once he started wearing the right size, he stopped limping and all was right again.

It turns out, this is a common problem among children. Kids’ little feet grow so quickly—sometimes after only a month! Several studies have found that more than half of children wear the wrong shoe size. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), wearing the wrong size can aggravate children’s feet and prevent them from fully participating in sports and other physical activities. That’s why it’s important to measure children’s feet frequently to ensure they’re wearing the proper size.

To prevent this problem with Matt and Nate, I’ve been taking them to Stride Rite—where I buy all of their shoes—every other month or so to get their feet measured. As they’ve gotten older, this has become a huge hassle, as the boys want to run all over the store and pick all the shoes up from the displays. If their feet haven’t grown, they get upset that I’m not buying them new shoes. Plus, it’s just another errand to fit into my already chaotic days.

Enter Squatchi. Squatchi is an inexpensive at-home foot sizer for kids. Created by two Atlanta moms, Squatchi measures sizes 2 Toddler all the way up to 5 Youth.

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Squatchi is super easy to use. Just have your child stand and rest his or her heel against the lip at the bottom, bearing weight on the foot. The line closest to the longest toe without touching is your child’s shoe size. Be sure to measure both feet, as they can vary slightly in size, and use the measurement of the larger foot. Then you can head to the shoe store only if your child’s foot has grown, or you can buy new shoes online. Easy peasy!

The company sent me a complimentary green Squatchi to try out on the twins. I’d had their feet measured only about a month ago and they were an 8.5, so that’s the size they’ve been wearing. I was almost certain it was still the proper size. Sure enough, Squatchi measured them at an 8.5.

An added bonus is that Squatchi can become a nice keepsake—like a mini growth chart for feet! Each time you measure your child’s feet, you can mark and date his or her size on the side of the Squatchi using the included permanent marker. There is plenty of space on both sides of the ruler, so I was able to mark Matt and Nate’s sizes on either side.

The only downside I can think of is that Squatchi doesn’t measure width. But based on their research of children’s shoes and feet, as well as their market research with moms of toddlers, Squatchi’s founders determined it wasn’t necessary. One reason is that the width options offered by many children’s shoe manufacturers aren’t very specific, and some don’t even offer wide or narrow sizes. Another is that the velocity of change with a child’s width is minimal, while the child’s foot length can change every month. Finally, toddler moms who tested Squatchi prototypes with width lines found that the lines were confusing. Most moms considered them unnecessary since they generally already knew if their child had normal, wide, or narrow feet.

Overall, I think Squatchi will be a great tool for me to have to monitor the boys’ foot growth. You can get your own at Amazon.com, Buy Buy Baby, Toys R Us, and several other websites and boutiques. Squatchi retails for anywhere from $14.95 to $19.99 and is available in blue, green, orange, pink, red, and white.

100% Natural Sunscreen for Babies and Kids

Having lived in sunny Southern California for the past year, we’ve gone through our fair share of sunscreen. I have to admit that due to the high price tag, I haven’t tried using any natural, chemical-free sunscreens on the twins. I’ve simply bought giant bottles of whatever children’s sunscreen happens to be on sale, in SPF 50 or 70, and slathered it on the boys before every outing. They’ve stayed sunburn-free, so it’s been working great. But in the back of my mind, I’ve wondered how much harm the chemicals in the sunscreen were inflicting on the boys.

So when I was given the chance to try out MelanSol Natural Baby Sunscreen SPF 30—a certified 100% natural, toxin-free sunscreen for kids that protects, conditions, and hydrates the skin—for this blog, I jumped at it. A 3.4-oz. bottle retails for $24.99 at puresunscreen.com and for $29.99 on Amazon.com, so I was curious to see what difference paying so much money would make.

MelanSol

First, the facts:

  • MelanSol is non-toxic and contains no chemicals.
  • It is the only natural sunscreen that uses a high-concentration blend of bio-active antioxidants. These antioxidants boost a child’s ability to neutralize free radical damage that is responsible for sunburn, early skin aging, and skin cancer later in life.
  • It is the only natural sunscreen that does not irritate the eyes.
  • It absorbs and starts protecting the moment it’s applied, allowing for immediate fun in the sun—no need to wait 30 minutes after applying.
  • It offers broad spectrum protection, safely reflecting 97 percent of UVA and UVB rays.
  • It is water resistant for up to 40 minutes.
  • It is gluten free and BPA free.
  • It’s manufactured in the U.S.

That all sounds absolutely wonderful, but how well would the product actually work? I couldn’t wait to try it.

The first time I used MelanSol on the twins was for a morning play date in our sunny backyard, where the kids would be splashing around at the water table and playing with squirt guns. When I opened the bottle, I was a bit taken aback. Since I’d only ever used traditional sunscreen, the non-greasy formula surprised me. It felt more like moisturizer than sunscreen. It had no scent, and it was also a beige color—sort of like makeup. I thought for sure that I’d have to apply tons of it on the boys for it to even be effective.

But I was wrong—a little bit truly goes a long way! I didn’t need to apply a lot at all, and the fact that it rubbed in super quickly was a lifesaver with two squirmy 3-year-olds. My boys also tend to look in every direction except at me when I’m applying sunscreen to their faces, which a couple of times has caused me to accidentally put some too close to their eyes. It happened again while applying the MelanSol, but the sunscreen never ran into their eyes (and if it did, it didn’t bother them).

I was a bit concerned that the SPF was only 30, since I’ve only ever applied higher SPFs on the boys. But after two full hours of outdoor play, they were burn free! I was also thrilled that I didn’t have to bathe them right away—their skin wasn’t ashy or sticky like it usually gets from sunscreen. They also didn’t smell like sunscreen.

I now fully understand the difference between all-natural sunscreen and traditional sunscreen for kids, and it sure is nice to not have to worry about chemicals going into the kids’ bodies. I just wish it weren’t so darn expensive. But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for!

If you want to try MelanSol for yourself, click here to order a free sample. Then come back and let me know what you think!