Category: Toy Recommendations

Our Best Unplugged Travel Game

By , August 14, 2009 7:33 pm

So you don’t think a four piece puzzle could ever present a challenge? Then you have obviously never played Safari Undercover by Educational Insights.

A recent happy find before our last big trip, Safari Undercover is a wonderful logic game!  The goal of the game is simple:  use the four differently shaped pieces to mask out certain wild animals while leaving others exposed according to the challenges illustrated in the booklet.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  The challenges are organized from “Starter” to “Master” and most of them really require a lot of thought, even for an adult!

The “Starter” level has hints to get you started if you need them.  After that you are on your own.  Each puzzle has only one answer and the solutions are included in the booklet.

What I like best about the game is that it has only four fairly large pieces and a booklet (not much to lose).  The pieces and booklet store neatly in a drawer under the game’s top.  Perfect for travel.

We played it for hours on the airplane and I was as eager for a turn as my kids were!

The game is also available with pirates.

The recommended age is 7 to 9 years, but I say 7 to 99 years!

PS: This is not a paid review (none of my reviews ever are). I am simply sharing my thoughts about a game that I bought myself and like.

Words – Language Bingo (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , April 5, 2009 9:50 pm

First of all, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Lynn of Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile for doing an excellent job of hosting the weekly Unplugged Project last week while I was away on vacation.  I really appreciate it and I hope it was fun for you!

We had a lovely time in Mexico.  The kids ran around on the beach and swam in the pool non-stop.  This was our first vacation with my youngest in tow where I was actually able to relax a bit.  My three year-old was finally independent enough to allow me to read two and a half books.  What a luxury.


Surprise!  We finally got to the Unplugged Project this week.  Although I hadn’t picked the theme words for any particular reason, it actually fit in perfectly with what we have been doing lately:  learning French.

I haven’t blogged about this yet, but this summer we are all going to France for three weeks where my two oldest children (6 and 8) will attend a language class.  I used to live in France, and am determined that my children learn French.  This is step one.  I’ll write more about it another day.

Anyhow, inspired by this wonderful French bingo game by eeBoo that we bought and love, I decided to make our own version.  I designed our own, changeable bingo game for learning lots of French words.

We gathered up some heavy cardboard, card stock, scissors a ruler and some old nature magazines.

First I cut the cardboard into three equal squares, one for each of my children.  My squares ended up being about 8 in. by  8 in. (about 20 cm by 20 cm).  It doesn’t really matter how big they are, as long they are square.

Using the ruler, I penciled a grid of nine approximately equal squares on each piece of cardboard.  These became the bingo cards.

We cut strips of card stock that were the same height as our rows of three squares, and slightly longer.

Next we cut some narrow ribbon in lengths just long enough to be slightly wider than the cardboard squares.

We put one piece across each vertical line on each card (two per card):

Then we taped the end securely onto the back of the bingo card:

Finally, the really fun part.  We searched the nature magazines to find some common animals to cut out, making sure that each animal photo would fit inside one of the nine squares on the card.

We pasted three animals on each strip keeping enough space between each animal for the ribbon.

Finally, we slid the strips under the ribbons to fill in the bingo board. The strips pass easily underneath the ribbons and the slightly longer length makes a nice tab for easy insertion and removal.

When the boards were done, we cut pieces of card stock into squares that were close to the size of our animal squares.  I wrote an animal name in French on each card.

Play proceeds like this:

The cards go into a bag.  The caller pulls out a card and says the name of the animal.  Whoever has it on their card says “moi!” (me) and places the card on top of the corresponding picture.  They also must say the name of the animal in French.  The winner is the first one to fill up his or her card and must then say the name of all the animals on their card in French.

One thing that is really fun about this is that you can rearrange the strips so the cards change combinations.

You can also make new strips for other categories of study.  We did animals, but you could do words having to do with the home, the body, school – whatever you want!  As vocabulary knowledge increases, you can mix the categories or words to make play more difficult.

The picture finding and cutting is fun and also provides an opportunity to learn the words before play.

For more advanced players, you could even do verbs and conjugations.


For those of you who did a word Unplugged Project this week, here is the linky.  Please link only if you did a word Unplugged Project.  Please link to your project post rather than simply your blog (I am trying build up an easily searchable archive).  If you did not do a word project, but want to learn more about how to join in, please read about it here. We’d love to have you!


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Have fun!



Our Last Selecta Toy

By , January 3, 2009 9:18 pm

For me, the New Year inspired many diverse hopes for a better 2009 and beyond. However, it was also the official start of my Selecta Mourning Period.

As I mentioned in a previous post, German toy company Selecta is the first casualty of the overly broad new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). Unable to afford the additional testing required by the CPSIA, Selecta ceased the distribution of its toys in the US market on December 31, 2008.

My prediction is that Selecta is simply the first of many high quality European toy manufacturers who will eventually succumb to the new burdens placed upon them. As for the lovely homemade toys currently available from Etsy sellers, or lesser-known “Mom and Pop” toystores such as Wood Toy Shop, Quiet Hours Toys, Down to Earth Toys, or many other favorites from my Unplugged Toystore list – their future is very uncertain.

Honestly, only mega-manufacturers such as Hasbro or Mattel and their Chinese mass-produced toys will be able to afford to jump through the added hoops.  Although these toys might be deemed “safe” at the end of their journey, for the most part, they are not what I want to offer my children.

Since my newly 3 year-old daughter has a January 2nd birthday (so close to Christmas, poor thing!), I decided to buy a farewell Selecta birthday gift for her. I chose the Stellina Star Sorting Puzzle. She really likes puzzles and this is a puzzle and a sorter combined. Put the arms of the star puzzle together, choose an awake face or an asleep face for the star in the middle, and then add the pegs of assorted sizes and colors.

She loves it! At this time, there are only three left at Amazon and I don’t know about other stores. So hurry up and Google Selecta to stock up before all these wonderful German toys are gone.


To learn more about the new CPSIA and how it affects small and foreign toymakers, read more here: Help Save Handmade Toys in the USA from the CPSIA.

For some suggested improvements:  Possible Solutions to Improve the CPSIA.

What can you do to help? Write to your Congress Person or Senator to request a change to the CPSIA which would exclude toys made in the US, Canada or Europe.  Here is a sample letter, or compose your own.

Useful links:

Find your Congress Person

Find your Senator



Fluffy – Pom Poms for Peace (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , December 7, 2008 8:35 pm

This week’s Unplugged Project theme (fluffy) was not premeditated, it just popped into my head.

I wanted an adventure this week so I thought long and hard all week about what to do. Cotton balls? Ordinary. Dryer lint? Flammable. Pom poms? What does one do with pom poms besides add some googly eyes? Not in the mood.

But then I found this: Pom Pom International!

Amy Lamé has a vision.  She is trying to bring people of the world together.  But how?  With music?  No.  Art?  No.  What then?  Pom poms!!  What could be less politically charged and more fun and appealing to humans everywhere, than the humble pom pom!  As Amy puts it:

Dealing with differences is much easier with a stress-busting pompom in your hand.

This is what it is all about:

Pom Pom International travels to areas of conflict around the globe. Together, we create whimsical,
non-political, creative balls of fluffy yarn in a gesture of peace and reconciliation. All pom poms are tagged, tracked and sewn together to make the biggest pom pom in the world.

Why not?  I love this idea!!  A peace pom pom!

If you can’t make it to a live pom pom making event, then you can create your pom pom at home and send it to Amy.  Email her a photo of you and your pom pom and she’ll add it to her online gallery.

I remember my mother teaching me how to make pom poms and I have a distinct fondness for them, so I was quite excited to make pom poms for a higher purpose than merely a place to stick googly eyes.

Pom poms are surprisingly easy and fun to make.  All you need is some sturdy cardboard (corrugated is best) and leftover yarn:

Cut two matching circles out of the cardboard. Next cut matching circles out of the middle of the original circles so you have a doughnut shape. (NOTE: Our cardboard was from an extra heavy box so I ended up using a dremel tool to cut these, but you really don’t need cardboard that is quite that tough!):

The width of the “ring” portion of your doughnut (distance between outer edge and start of inner hole) will determine the size of your pom pom (bigger band=bigger pom pom).  Also, I would advise making your donuts a bit bigger than we did so that the middle hole can be bigger.  A larger hole makes it easier to pass the yarn through.

Place your cardboard rings together like a sandwich.

Choose your yarn and cut a length that is several yards/meters long.  Roll it into a small ball so that it can easily pass through the center hole.  Pass the loose end of the yarn through the hole and hold on to it with your thumb.  Wrap yarn tightly around the doughnut like this (once you start wrapping, you can let go of the loose end):

Keep wrapping all around the circle as many times as necessary to completely cover it.  Keep going until you can no longer fit any yarn through the hole … or you run out of patience, whichever comes first!  The more yarn you use, the thicker and puffier your pom pom will be.

When you finish your first small ball, you can easily add on more yarn by simply threading the loose end through and holding it with your thumb, just as you did before.  You can change colors this way too, as I did with my blue and purple pom pom.

When you are through wrapping, cut the strands all the way around the edge of the doughnut with the scissor tips between the two cardboard pieces.

Now wrap a long strand of yarn around the pom pom, between the two sandwiched sections and tie tightly:

And finally, the really exciting part:  gently pull apart the two cardboard rings to reveal your completed pom pom.  Trim and fluff as necessary, and there you have it!  A nice, fluffy, pom pom for peace!

In order to have your pom pom be a part of the giant peace pom pom simply print out a tag for each pom pom from the Pom Pom International website, take a photo of you and your creation for the website’s gallery (send it via email), then ship your tagged pom poms to Pom Pom International in London, England!  Full instructions, tag and addresses are here.

Tomorrow after school we will be off to the post office to send our peace pom poms to England.  The children are very excited!



Amy’s explanation and diagram of making a pom pom – very helpful!

Pom Pom International

Pompoms Can Save the Planet – May 6, 2008, The Scotsman Newspaper

By the way, Amy also gratefully accepts donations of any leftover or recycled yarn balls and bits.  Send all “orphaned or previously loved yarn” here:

NEW Pom Pom International HQ
106 Lower Marsh
London SE1 7AB

It will be used for the free pom pom making events.

If you are feeling really enthusiastic, she also seeks Pom Pom International Ambassadors.  Can you volunteer to organize a pom pom making booth at a crafts or art fair?  How about a club event?  The more pom poms, the better.


Did you do a fluffy Unplugged Project this week?  If so, then please post a link to your project post (not just your blog) in Mr. Linky below.  If you didn’t participate but would like to learn more, then please do not link, but read about it here.


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Have fun!


Kitchen – Non-Newtonian Fluid; aka “Oobleck!! – (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , November 10, 2008 10:00 pm

Today, along with a visiting friend, we finally got to do this week’s kitchen Unplugged Project.  We used cornstarch, a common kitchen ingredient, to create a non-Newtonian fluid.  The other name for such a mixture is Oobleck, from the Dr. Seuss book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck.

It was SO COOL!!  The kids and I found it fascinating!  I was so enthralled that I felt that the mess (and there WAS mess), was actually very worthwhile.

I set out four small mixing bowls and spoons, one for each child.  I also set out water, cornstarch, and measuring cups.

The kids each put about one cup of cornstarch into their bowl.

I had them add water just a bit at a time,

and stir until we got the “right” consistency.

It was probably close to about a half to two thirds of a cup of water, but the “right” consistency was quite obvious.  When the mixture starts to feel hard to stir although it looks like liquid on the top, then it is probably about ready.

Test it by dipping your hand in, lifting out some fluid, and squeezing it into a ball.  It should feel like a hard, dry ball in your hand but when you open your fingers, it will turn back into a liquid and run back into the bowl.

Here is a fleeting picture of it as a solid:

Adjust your mixture by adding a bit of water if too dry, or a bit of cornstarch if too wet.  You’ll know you have it right when the oohs and aahs begin!

This was so much fun to play with and was a very weird sensation that is quite hard to describe.  The children (including my 2 year-old) and I played for maybe an hour:  squeezing, stirring, punching, and even hammering!

My favorite trick: If you roll it between your two palms as if you are making a ball with clay, it makes a nice solid ball, but as soon as you release the pressure, it all runs away!

Also, put a finger gently into it and it will slowly and strangely be sucked under as if in quicksand.  Jab the finger in quickly, and it will hit a hard surface.

The Science:

As I understand it, when you squeeze the mixture, or compress it quickly in some way (hammer, punching, etc.), the molecules compress and become a solid.  When the pressure is released, the molecules spread out again and the mixture becomes a liquid.  As my oldest daughter said:  “Oooo!  I can feel it changing from a solid to a liquid!”

Here are two good explanations of what a non-Newtonian fluid is:

“Oobleck is often referred to as a ‘non-Newtonian’ substance because it does not behave as Newton’s Third Law of Motion states; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Applying this principle, you would expect Oobleck to ‘splash’ when you ‘smack’ it with your hand. (Smacking is the action, splashing is the reaction.) However, when you try this out Oobleck does not splash, in fact, it becomes a solid substance for a few moments.”

(from Oobleck – a Non-Newtonian Fluid)


“Isaac Newton defined normal liquids as having consistent flow behavior affected only by temperature or pressure; so fluids that change their resistance to flow (viscosity) under stress are not ‘normal’. Some of these fluids get runnier when stress is applied, like paint, toothpaste and slug mucus. Some get thicker, like quicksand and Oobleck.”

(from Science in the City – Bullet Proof Goo)

As to why it behaves this way, it seems that this is actually a matter of some controversy, but here are some links that are more knowledgeable than I:

Oobleck –  a Non-Newtonian Fluid

More About Liquids: Thick and Thin


You can actually walk on this stuff!  My son wanted to try it after seeing this You Tube video.

(There are a few other walking on cornstarch videos out there if you are really into this!)


1) I STRONGLY recommend that you either do this outside in an area that you can just hose off afterwards, or use a vinyl tablecloth that you can remove and hose off afterwards.  Why didn’t I use mine?

2) Be sure to add the water a bit at a time, it is easy to overdo it.

3) If you do forget the tablecloth like I did, you will find that non-Newtonian fluids can be difficult to clean off a table.  When you try wiping what looks like liquid, it turns into a solid and sticks.

When you stop scrubbing it returns to a liquid state!  After a bit of frustration I used my science brain and poured water on the table.  I was able to wipe the now runny cornstarch liquid into a trash can.


Although I suggested it humorously yesterday, I have actually had several votes for an Unplugged Project theme next week involving “sort, trash, junk, donate.”  Well, why not??

As Captain Jean-Luc Picard would have said (see, I haven’t always been without a TV!):  “Make it so.”

Let’s call next week’s theme:


Remember, the theme can be loosely interpreted if you don’t feel like cleaning your house this week.  Just be creative and have fun!

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