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We have some close friends that live down the street from us that we car pool with to school every day and the kids are over at their house a couple times a week to play.

And without fail, every single time one or both of the boys will spend at least half an hour trying to do this ball maze puzzle game called Perplexis.

Perplexis takes a great twist on the traditional ball in a maze games where you would tilt and turn a flat two dimensional board trying to coax a small ball around obstacles and brings it into the third dimension.  You need to slowly rotate or rock or very very very gently shake the ball to make the little marble inside move further along the track or jump an obstacle.

There are no batteries required, no beeping or flashing or other general annoyances about the game.  At first glance it appears to be one giant maze when in fact it’s a bunch of different mazes all in the same ball, and there are multiple marbles in there too so once you master a couple of the mazes you can attempt the impossible and guide multiple metal balls through at the same time.

There are three different versions for different age ranges:

Of course, since the games are self contained with no exposed choking hazards you could certainly give the Epic version to a 4 year old, just don’t expect them to get very far toward solving it.

Note that your child needs to be old enough to understand that it’s not a ball to avoid breakage.  While not totally fragile, it’s not going to survive a toss in the air and a fall onto a tile floor without something breaking.   I know many six year old boys who probably would have a hard time controlling the impulse to throw a ball in the air or kick it across the room, so keep that in mind.

 

Best new baby bath tub

I really wish I had this tub when my kids were babies. It is brilliant, because what my babies hated about baths is being laid out on their backs in a traditional baby tub. This bucket design in this European Upright Baby Bath Tub is genius. The baby gets to stay upright, is held with their body in close together which is more comforting for the baby. Also,most of their body can be submerged keeping them warmer then when they are in the cold air and you have pour the water over them.

This would make a great baby gift. And, I was checking out new bath toys and this boon creatures interchangeable bath toy cup set is the best thing I’ve seen.

It is everything you want in a bath toy. Very open with no tiny cracks that will stay wet and get moldy. The act of pouring water into and out of cups is pretty much the greatest thing for younger kids – you would think something simple would get old but it never does!

 

 

The Best Balance Bikes

Balance bikes are the perfect way to introduce kids to bike riding. They don’t have brakes or pedals and are typically sized for kids 2 to 6. They develop the balance skills necessary for riding a bike and they have been shown to be a better way to learn to balance than training wheels on a regular bikes – I know five year olds who went right from their balance bike to a regular bike and skipped the training wheels altogether. The one seen above, the balance bike from Smart Gear is the one The Princess has (only hers is pink).

This Spring Fever balance bike is adorable too.

If you want more of a motorcycle vibe, this YBIKE balance bike may be for you.

And I also like the Kazam balance bike for its more traditional bike look. This may be the best choice for younger siblings who need something that is just like an older sibling’s bike.

There is something about standing at a table playing with water that kids love.  Every once in a while we make the trek into the Children’s Museum and they have a great room with all sorts of fun things to do with water and soap.  There is a bubble making station, a place to make whirlpools, and the like.

If you’re looking for a little cool fun in the summertime, a kids water table might be just the thing.  Like it’s close cousin the sand table, you can occupy a toddler for far longer than you would expect by letting them play and pour water around.  Combine it with a toy fishing set and some nets and you might be able to have a nice relaxing afternoon in the hammock while the little ones splash.

There are a bunch of options out there for these tables, here are some of the better choices.

The Step2 Kids Water Activity Table is always a good choice.  At around $45 it’s got everything you need for some good outdoor fun.  Or indoor if you’re very brave and don’t worry about water damage to your floors.  There is a tower with a water wheel, cups for pouring, some boats, and different depths to keep your toddler playing for hours.

Step2 also makes the Sand and Water Transportation Table pictured above.  For about $10 more than the regular water table, you get two sections to keep the sand and water separate, a little train for transporting water and sand around the table, and three different water wheels for playing and pouring.  It certainly has more to do, but if you think FOR A MINUTE that your toddler will be able to resist the urge to mix the sand and water, you are sadly mistaken.  But a mud table is even more fun, and kids should be kids so I say go for it.

But if you want the ULTIMATE toddler water play table, you’ll have to look here:

The Little Tykes Sea and Sand Table has it all.  Both sand and water with good separation, a selection of cups and water towers and such, and an umbrella to keep the little ones out of the sun while standing at the table for hours.  Unlike the smaller tables above, this one has space for four kids to play very comfortably and not get in each others way.  Of course, it’s also more expensive than the other two.   But if you want to keep your toddler busy while you sit in the sun and read, this is the table for you.

Baby gifts are one of the most difficult gifts to buy. Babies don’t really have opinions about the kinds of toys and clothes they like and they actually don’t need much. It is months before a newborn baby will even notice any of the adorable toys their parents got at the baby shower. For this reason I like to give practical gifts for new parents, things that might make their lives with a tiny baby just a smidge easier.

My suggestion for today: changing table pad covers.

Whether you have a fancy, expensive changing table or are using the top of a repurposed dresser, you are going to have one of these:

A changing pad that keeps the baby comfy while being changed and hopefully keeps him or her from rolling off the top. I love these changing pad covers from Summer Infant. They are soft and plushy and, most importantly, machine washable (They will get dirty. You may want to give them in sets of three or four). They have four designs:

Green Monkey

Blue Lion

Pink Giraffe

Tan Frog

They also make some solid color changing pad covers if you think the parents would prefer it to the cartoon animals (we have already established that the baby doesn’t really care – baby gifts are really for the parents).

 

 

Boon Glo nightlight

I am always on the lookout for the coolest nightlights and look what the awesome people at boon made for us?

In addition to its sexy space-age look, the glowing balls can be removed from the base and taken wherever you need a little light (just a little, the word on the street is that the balls off the base are not very bright). Once separated from the base the balls fade after about 30 minutes.

If you leave them on the base they can change color (there is a sliding thing on the base to change the color) or you can have it cycle automatically through all the colors. You can also set it to white (the brightest setting).

As you would expect from a great company like boon, the base and lights are all BPA-free, Phthalate-free and PVC-free. There is nothing electric in the balls (they are just made of a glow-in-the-dark plastic) so they never get hot. I love this for a baby gift for parents who are into design or trying to be gender neutral.  It doesn’t have to for a kid’s room – I think it would be great as a hallway or bathroom nightlight. Fun enough for the kids’ rooms and yet interesting enough for grown-up rooms too.

Collectable Muppet Toys

Have you heard of the Vinylmation figures? They are these little (3 inches) vinyl toys inspired by the Disney theme parks and collected by many. I am newly enamored of them, I think they are adorable and I love the element of surprise.

When you order them you get blind box, meaning you don’t know which figure is inside, making collecting them all more challenging. Also, each set has a mystery figure, one that isn’t in the picture of the whole set. I love Vinylmation Muppets, as you know, but the other Disney sets are pretty cute too – perfect for a collector or just a fan of Disney.

Theme park Vinylmation

Star Wars Vinylmation:

 

Muppets Toys!

We recently saw the new movie, The Muppets (Loved It! Grown-ups and kids alike!). I am really hoping that this movie sparks a craze for all things Muppet.

If you, or someone you love, is crazy for a particular Muppet did you know that you can have you very own plush version? My longtime favorite, Animal, is pictured above. But of course there is also Kermit The Frog

Miss Piggie

Fozzie Bear (wakka wakka)

Gonzo (“What is Gonzo anyway? He’s a little like a chicken, but not much”)

and many more. They range in size from 15 inches (Fozzie) to 19 inched (Miss Piggie – she wears some serious heels, you know).

Muppets make everything better.

Glow in the dark hexbug nano

Our kids love hexbugs. We have had the bigger spider like hexbugs, but they never get played with as much as the little hexbug nanos. ANd the only way I can think of to make the hexbug nano even more fun is to make it Glow In The Dark!

I think what makes the nano so much more fun is the way it moves. Since it’s only method of locomotion is through vibrating, it moves in an unpredictable path. You can buy play sets with paths and ramps for them to move along or race through. There are even glow in the dark “habitat sets.”

There is a small starter set

And a larger Hexbug glow in the dark habitat set.

I have to tell you that the best play space we have found for our hexbugs is one of those flying saucer style sleds.

We discovered this last year on Christmas morning, when the hex bugs were put in the saucers to keep them from getting lost and because of the concave shape of the sleds they automatically went around and around in circles. Very fun to watch, actually.

The Most Beautiful Blocks

Blocks are such a basic toy that I think they get overlooked. But they are, in my humble opinion, the most versatile toy there is and crucial for proper development. If there was a law passes that every baby came home from the hospital with one toy, I would vote for that toy to be blocks. We have a huge basket of wooden blocks and they are, at this very moment, being used as a castle for a couple of princesses and a mermaid. Even in a house with two one year olds and a four year old they get played with all the time.

I do love a good set of plain blocks like the Bag O’Blocks seen above by Ryan’s Room. However, I am awfully tempted by pretty things and there are some lovely sets of blocks.

This 25 piece set of Organeco extra-large, lightweight blocks are just lovely. They are made of bamboo (hence the lightweight part), the artwork is done in water based inks sealed with beeswax. You couldn’t ask for a more lovely or eco-friendly toy.

Haba, one of my favorite toy companies, can be relied upon for lovely block sets. To name just a few there is the Haba fantasy blocks

The Haba eeny meeny miny zoo blocks

And the Haba fantasy land building blocks

And for a classic alphabet blocks set, there is nothing prettier than this French alphabet block set by Uncle Goose.

They are handmade in Michigan from solid basswood. There are 32 blocks in the set and they include all letters, numbers and 32 different animals and their named in french. Perfect for introducing a little french to your little one. Or for building princess castles, whichever.