Category Archives: Gifts and Games

Gift Ideas for a Lego Fan

Gift Ideas and Reviews

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the educator version of Groupon – Educents.


I’ve ordered a few things through them (like Life of Fred math curriculum, which I rarely see on sale and yet, is currently on sale there again . . . we LOVE Life of Fred!!!).


LEGO Rental Service

Pley for Lego Fans

For just a couple more days they are running a special on Pley – the “Netflix” of the Lego world. For $25 you get a $50 credit toward any of their 3 plans. It can mean that you get 3 months of the smallest plan or 2 months of the mid-priced plan. It seems like a great deal if you want to give the service a try. I don’t see any strings, except that you’ll have to cancel the service if you don’t want to automatically renew it at full cost when your credit is used up. I think that’s to be expected.

The Lego fan in my house is getting a subscription for Christmas . . . Shhhhhh, don’t tell him!



This post contains affiliate links.


Great Gift Ideas (and Reviews) #5

Gift Ideas and Reviews

Awesome Math GamesI don’t know if any of you have picked up on this yet . . . but we like games around here.  We like them so much that I think I’ve mentioned games about a million times on the blog already. I’ve mentioned them here and here and here, and that doesn’t even count the homeschool-related posts I’ve mentioned them in. So . . . yep. There’s no doubt about it. We definitely like games.

I’m always looking for great games to add to our collection, and it’s not unusual for a game or two to show up around here on any of the occasions that call for gift-giving. My kids really don’t mind at all if a game is educational, as long as it’s fun. Consequently, we own a LOT of educational games. Especially math games. I separated the games earlier this year so that the ones that are more for pure fun are down with the toys and the ones that are more educational are with our school stuff. It hasn’t made a bit of difference. The kids just pull out what they’re in the mood for. The educational ones come out every bit as often as the others.

Since we’re talking about math games here, I’ll remind you just for reference that my children are currently 7 and 5.

Here are some of our absolute favorite math-related games:

Math games Dino Math tracks gifts for kidsMath Game #1:

Math games Dino Math Tracks Gifts for kids

Dino Math Tracks. We’ve owned this game for at least two years. It teaches place value up to the 1000s. My children LOVE this game. The game can be played multiple ways depending on the age and ability of the child.

Math Game #2:

Math games Sum Swamp gifts for kids

Sum Swamp. This game gets played around here ALL.THE.TIME. At least once a week I come in and discover that my children are playing this one. Usually at the dining room table. And, usually someone is SITTING on the dining room table. We’re raising great game players around here, but respect for furniture and a general knowledge of manners is really lacking. I try not to fuss too much, since they are voluntarily electing to do math. This game is a great introduction (or reinforcement) of the basics of addition and subtraction. It has simple rules and play is generally pretty quick. A single round usually lasts under 20 minutes. My children often play more than one before moving on.

Math Game #3

Math games Money Bags gifts for kids

Money Bags. This is a great game for learning about the value of coins and how to combine them. You earn money by landing on the labeled spaces and spin to see what kind of coins you’re allowed to receive from the bank. Then, you have to figure out how to combine the permitted coins in order to collect your wages. We’ve owned this game for a while, but this year we finally hit the right age for playing it, and it’s become very popular around here. They’ve gotten much better at calculating with coins!

Math Game #4

Math games Count Down gifts for kids

4-Way Count Down. This is a great game! It’s easily transported and easily stored. It can be used for kids of a HUGE variety of ages and skill-sets. We typically play a simple addition version with my son, but you can play with addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division (or any combination). This is a handy game to carry with you when you want to keep a child entertained. It’s about the size of a large book. The only loose pieces are the dice, and they get rolled within the game box, so there’s very little that can get lost. Our only suggestion for improving the game would be to put a piece of felt down in the center of the box to make rolling the dice quieter. Other than that, this is nearly the PERFECT game!

Math Game #5

Math games Math Dice gifts for kids

Math Dice. Another simple and well designed game for reinforcing mental math. To play, you roll the odd sided white die to reveal a number. Then, roll the five regular (colored) dice to give you a set of numbers. You must use one or more of the numbers shown on the colored dice to make the first number. You move one space for every colored dice you use to arrive at the correct answer, so you gain points for making your solution more complicated. This is another game that can be played with a younger child using just addition (this is how we typically play with my son) or with an older child using all four operations and reinforcing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division in the process.  The game comes with a storage bag and is small enough to stick in your purse and carry with you for playing on the run. However, rolling the dice is part of the game and you do have to keep an eye on the trajectory of the dice (I have some crazy dice rollers, so I speak from experience!) in order to keep from losing any when you’re out and about!


I know you’re thinking that I can’t possibly come up with any more games to recommend, but I can! We seriously LOVE games! And while we’ve had our fair share of duds around here, I won’t share those with you. For now, this post is PLENTY long, so I’ll save some of my non-math related games for another time!

In the meantime, if you’ve got great math game recommendations, I am anxious to hear them! Please add them in the comments so I can go and check them out!

And, if you’re interested in some of the things that have been successes around here that AREN’T games . . . you can always check out this page!


Great Gift Ideas (and Reviews) #4

Gift Ideas and Reviews

We have had a LOT of building toys around our house over the years! Here are some of our very favorites, which would make great gift ideas!

Building Toy Gift Idea #1:

Tomy Contructables Building Toys Gift IdeaWe gave this set of Tomy Contructables to our little boy when he was 2 1/2. At that age, we did most of the constructing, but he loved to “help” and he was fully enamored with the idea of constructing something that actually moved. This set is durable, comes with easy instructions for building multiple types of vehicles, and the parts are large enough to be handled by a toddler/young preschooler. This has continued to be a toy that he pulls out, although I think that at 5 1/2 he has really aged beyond it. Still, it’s a toy that has help up beautifully for all this time and consistently been entertaining. The box is large enough to stuff all the pieces back into and stores nicely on our shelves. My only complaint about the toy was  that the motor was designed to make a clicking sound (why on earth?), but we weren’t the first to be annoyed by it and one of the other reviewers on Amazon had figured out a very simple fix. My husband followed their lead and we’ve enjoyed the toy very much ever since! There’s apparently even a dinosaur set out there now and the pieces are interchangeable!

Building Toy Gift Idea #2:

Here’s another fun building set that has stood the test of time: Wedgits. We’ve had this set since the time our children were 4 and 2 and they still enjoy pulling it out and playing with it.  The pieces are large and easily handled by a young child. They can be put together very simply or constructed into more complicated patterns. Like most building block sets, the more pieces you have, the more you can build with it. You can follow the book or get creative. This toy has held up beautifully! My only complaint about it is that it you’ll need to come up with some storage for it. The box it comes in is not designed to house it for the long-haul.

Building Toy Gift Idea #3:

Castle Building Blocks Gift IdeaMy sister and her family gave this Castle Building Block set to my son about a year ago. We’ve had LOTS of building block sets around here (also Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, etc) and this has definitely been the most popular and played with set! Both of my children love to get this set out and either build a castle together or work on their own individual creations. It also worked out really nicely with that our Classical Conversations homeschool group studied the Medieval Period this year!

These block are really simple and basic, but they just look so nice that they make a the most simple structure look cool!

This is a set that you’ll need to plan on some storage for (Can you tell that makes a difference to me when it comes to toys? I must have some sort of issue that probably requires therapy to deal with. My house is not perfectly neat and organized, by the way. Far from it.).

Great Gift Ideas (and Reviews) #3

Gift Ideas and Reviews

Here are reviews of 3 great games for children gift ideas! All of these are small and transported pretty easily.

Games for Children#1: Uno to Go

UNO H20 To Go Card GameThis is a brilliantly designed set of Uno cards! This is exactly the same as your standard Uno game, except that the cards are laminated. The lamination is such that the cards hold up EXTREMELY well under a LOT of circumstances:

  • Playing beside the pool, at the beach, or on a boat.
  • Playing with a child who tends to bend cards (these cards are NOT easily bent!)
  • Playing and eating, especially with children. These cards wipe clean in a flash!
  • Playing anywhere on the run. I kept this deck of cards in the bottom of my purse (a TERRIFYING place, if I do say so) for 2 or 3 weeks and they looked just as good at the when I pulled them out to play with at my parents’ home for Thanksgiving as they did when I threw them in my purse to take to entertain my son somewhere all those weeks earlier.

When I purchased these, I was concerned about how well they would shuffle because of the lamination. I needn’t have worried. I actually think they shuffle more smoothly than most regular decks of cards.

My ONLY real complaint about these cards is the plastic ring they come with to keep them together. It’s very difficult to get them on and off. There are lots of alternatives to that, though, so the problem is easily solved.

Games for Children #2: Rush Hour

Game Gift Idea

Thinkfun has a lot of excellent games on the market, but this is one of our favorites. The game is called Rush Hour Jr., and while the manufacturer recommended age is 6 and up, our son has been interested in playing since he was 4 and increasingly adept at playing since he turned 5. To play, you set up the board as shown on one of the various challenge cards (which are colored and numbered based on their level of difficulty). You then slide the cars around in order to free the ice cream truck from traffic. It’s a lot of fun, comes with a storage bag, and travels pretty nicely. I do wish that the cards stored in a drawer underneath the game board instead of in a paper card box (they do with the adult version of the game, which is also lots of fun . . . we owned it for years before we had children. It’s great on car rides. For children, of course, the hazard of playing this in a car is that they pieces fall to the floor or beneath/between seats, but for adults it’s great road trip entertainment!)

Game for Children #3: Othello

Games for kids Gifts for kids Toys for kidsOne game my children (ages 5 and 7) have REALLY enjoyed playing lately is Othello. It’s a game that is fairly easy to explain and, much like checkers, can be played with a very simple play-by-play strategy, or with a more complicated forward-thinking strategy. My children have enjoyed playing against a parent, as well as playing against each other unassisted. It looks like this version of the game is really no longer available. There’s nothing particularly special about this version. The newer version made by Mattel comes with covers for the chips so that the board and chips can be self-contained, which would be nice!

For other gift and game reviews that have been posted on the blog, check out this page!


Great Gift Ideas (and Reviews) #2

Gift Ideas and Reviews

For this gift ideas and review post, I thought I’d give you a little feed back on a type of toy we’ve had at least three different versions of around our house over the past few years: Marble Runs.

A Good Gift Idea

We began our experience with marble ones with one like this one (although it was NOT this brand). My son really enjoyed it, and I think it’s actually still here at the house somewhere. The problem with this particular set was that it was too complicated and wobbly for a child under 5 to put together on his own. The age recommendations on these are usually 3 and up, and while that’s a great age to enjoy playing with the ASSEMBLED marble run, children of that age are going to need quite a bit of hands on assistance getting the run assembled in the first place, and reassembled after it gets bumped into and knocked over or knocked apart by the child playing with it. It’s also just complicated to figure out how to put these together, especially for a younger child. It’s not a bad toy at all, but it just wasn’t the marble run experience we were really looking for.

Gift ideas for kids

A Better Gift Idea

Marble runs in general still appealed to us as a toy. I love the idea of assembling and thinking through the physics of a marble run, plus they’re just plain fun! So, we decided to try a  more classic approach and go with a wooden set. This is a VERY nice marble run and it’s a set we plan to keep for a long time, but again, it was a set we really purchased too soon. We’ve had it for 3 years and my children (now 5 and 7) are just now becoming able to really play with it by themselves. So, if you’re thinking about a wooden set like this one, definitely wait until a child is at least 5 or 6 to invest in one. There’s no need to be in a hurry. They are really beautiful sets and can be enjoyed for years to come.

Product DetailsThe Best Gift Idea

And finally, I happened to find these marble runs by Mindware earlier this year. These are GREAT, and perfect for kids of lots of ages. They are sturdy and not easily knocked over. The pieces are of a uniform size, so they fit together fairly easily and can be handled by small hands. Like most marble runs, they come with a few suggested runs to build, but they also leave plenty to the imagination. We have thoroughly enjoyed ours! My only complaint about the product is the packaging, which was obviously designed to appeal to adults and not to children. The packaging makes the toy look a whole lot less fun than it really is! On the other hand, I do like the shape of the box and I appreciate that it’s sturdy and the toy packs back into it with very little effort, and it can be stored on a shelf more easily than the two runs that I mentioned above. Those are all nice features in my book. There are also multiple sets of runs (at varying price points) made my Mindware, and the pieces are interchangeable, so if you enjoy one set, it’s something that can be added to and expanded upon to give you more options.

So, while really any of these three marble runs would make a nice gift for someone, my favorite, especially for children in the 4-8 year old range, would be the Q-BA-Maze by Mindware.

Great Gift Ideas (and Reviews) #1

Gift Ideas and Reviews

It gets to be about this time of year, and we all start thinking past Thanksgiving and on toward Christmas. If you’re like me, you usually have the PERFECT gift in mind for one or two people on your list, but are still waiting for inspiration to hit for all of the others. Coming up with great gift ideas can be hard!

I don’t know about you, but when I’m trying to make decisions about what to give, I am a review reader. I love to see what other, real people, have to say about how something worked (or didn’t work) for them. And, when it comes to toys for children, I want to see what ages it worked well for, because, as we all know, the age recommendations on toys may or may not be truly reflective of what age child will enjoy the toy.

So, I thought I’d look back through some of the toy successes and failures around here and see if I could give you some useful recommendations as we head into the gift-giving season. We’ll start this week with one of our more recent successes, Snap Circuits Jr.

Great Gift Ideas for Children Snap circuits

Watching my son play with this toy last week (and again today) is actually what made me think about starting this series.  My son is 5 and we gave him this set for his birthday.  You can see in the image above that the age recommendation is 8 and up.

Back in 2009, we gave the larger version of this toy, Snap Circuits SC-300, to my nephew, who was about 8 1/2 at the time. According to my sister, he really loved it. Like my son, he enjoys making and building things. So, I’d been thinking about getting my son a Snap Circuits kit when he got old enough, and decided to go ahead and give it a try with the Jr. version for his 5th birthday.

Great Gift Ideas for Children Snap CircuitsThe long and short of it is: I don’t know why the age recommendation is so high. The kit is safe. I’ve seen no way for him to get shocked or otherwise injured (even if there were a shock, it would just be from the batteries powering the board, so it wouldn’t be much of one). Five year-olds, obviously aren’t likely to put small parts in their mouths, and while there are some small parts, the pieces are mostly larger and easier to handle than those contained in many Lego sets. So, I’m baffled about why they wouldn’t set a lower age recommendation. If you have a child who enjoys Lego sets and following the required instructions to build them, even if he or she is just in the early stages of doing so, then this is definitely a toy that I would consider.

The set contains a book with different projects and the child must follow directions in order to complete the circuit and get the promised result. My son’s favorite project so far was turning the plastic fan piece into a flying saucer and launching it across the room.  He also loves all the projects that set the board up to make (albeit, mildly annoying) noises. For the first few projects, he needed assistance, but since then, he has worked on the projects primarily alone. Occasionally, he’ll need to get a little clarification, but usually by the time I’ve disengaged from whatever I was working on to help him, he’s figured it out by himself.

My FAVORITE thing about this toy (besides the fact that he enjoys playing with it)? The box and packaging are extremely well designed (you can take a peek in the picture above). All the parts can very be easily put back in their place (by your child!) when he or she is done playing with it. It’s unusual for us to go this long with a toy of this nature and not lose a piece, or have to come up with another storage option to keep up with things that don’t fit back in the box well.  This gets played with regularly and he picks it up beautifully every time.  I love it!

And, of course, the bonus is that it’s really very educational, without his even realizing it. He’s learning to follow directions, complete real electronic circuits, and audit his work when there’s a problem.

Snap Circuits Jr. is a winner, in my opinion, and a great gift idea for children. I highly recommend it . . . for ages 5 and up!

This review is totally unsolicited. This really is just a great toy that we purchased and have really enjoyed!

I’ll be collecting all of the gift reviews that we do this year and putting them all in one place. You can see them here!