Marin Mommies presents a guest article by Marin mom and writer Gabrielle Cullen.
Here in Marin, we mommies are fortunate to able to frequent many unique and often times independent locally owned toy stores. A place to take the kids while looking for the 20th birthday gift of the year. A place where the person behind the counter is usually the owner, a member of the owner’s family, or a longtime manager who knows everything there is to know about toys. There are usually samples out and about, great for playing, and there are items guaranteed to bring back a major sense of nostalgia. Yes, the toy store of yore—some still exist! They’ve managed to survive the arrivals of gigantic retail monsters who’ve plopped themselves down in a cool 20,000 square feet of space in a strip mall somewhere down the road. So next time you need a gift, a new addition to the household stash, or just maybe a half an hour of peace, hit up one of these super cool spots. Not only will you be supporting a local business, but the kiddos will have a blast to boot.
If you're like us, you're still out there looking for Christmas gifts, and one of our picks this holiday season is the Ugly Doll. These hip and huggable stuffed toys are favorites with many kids, ours included. They're not really ugly, even with their fangs, buck teeth, and missing eyes—they're actually pretty cute—and each one has its own distinct look, personality, and back story. Designed by a husband-and-wife artist team, these adorable and hilarious plush toys are even a hit with older kids who wouldn't be caught dead lugging around a teddy bear.
Ugly Dolls are available in a range of sizes, including clip-ons (about 4 inches tall, ideal for clipping to a backpack zipper pull, and perfect for a stocking stuffer), Little Uglys (about 7 inches), Classic (12 inches), and Jumbo (24 inches). Prices range from $6 to $40, depending on size and availability.
You'll find literally dozens of different Ugly Doll characters in different sizes, shapes, and colors, and part of the fun of shopping for them is trying to figure out which ones best fit your children's personalities. That's our ever-expanding team of Ugly Dolls in the photo above, hanging out on our living room sofa. From left to right: Gerry Berry, clip-on Ninja Batty Shogun, Little Ugly Suddy, Classic Brip, and clip-on Puglee .
Every parent knows that finding a truly great toy can be a challenge, especially when you're trying to find one that's not only fun, but educational as well. For this 2010 holiday season the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) has again helped take the guesswork out of toy shopping by compiling their annual Best Toys for Kids list! Nominated and voted on by the toy experts who are members of the ASTRA, the list of winners features a wide variety of toys for just about every age group imaginable. There's an emphasis here on good old-fashioned imaginitive play and fun, so you can feel good about buying these for your children.
We're also happy to see some local companies represented here, like Emeryville's Folkmanis Puppets and San Francisco's Green Toys, Inc.
Marin mom and entrepreneur Marjun Biernath looked back to her native Germany when trying to find a business niche here in the US. She imports unique, handmade, and educational Kumquats puppets from Europe to sell to lucky families in both the Bay Area and throughout the country.
We asked Marjun to answer a few questions about herself, her family, her business, and Kumquats. You can learn more about Marjun and the complete line of Kumquats puppets by visiting www.kumquats-usa.com.
“Wow!” my son shouted as we walked in the door and laid eyes on all the LEGO kits and pieces in the room at Play-Well Teknologies in San Anselmo. We have been trying to visit “the LEGO place” (as my son calls it) and try one of their drop-in open-play sessions for a while now, but something always seemed to come up. We finally made it there last week with some friends for a playdate, and we all had a blast.
Play-Well TEKnologies' Marin Engineering Center features a large area dedicated just for the drop-in play. In fact, it's the largest drop-in LEGO center in the country. My son was in awe—they seemed to have every type of LEGO imaginable. Dozens of bins keep the LEGO pieces, reportedly over a million in all, organized by color, size, type, or theme, including wheels, ships, planes, engines, pirates and much, much more.
Sometimes getting kids to communicate their feelings can be difficult, but Kimochis, a new line of stuffed toys created by a group of Marin mompreneurs in San Anselmo, are here to help. Kimochi (which means "feeling" in Japanese) toys are cute and huggable characters that come with a set of feelings inside—little dolls that represent feelings like jealous, grateful, shy, happy, and brave. These feelings and the Kimochi characters assist children, parents, and teachers in discussing their feelings, becoming better communicators, and cultivating confidence and character.
Our Kimochi, Bug (an adorable caterpillar with a hidden pair of butterfly wings), was an instant hit with our three-year-old daughter, who insists on carrying it with her just about every place. The different feelings that came with Bug all store in a handy pouch on his tummy, where they can be stored and then pulled out to play with and of course communicate about the feelings they represent. Overall it's a really appealing and well made toy. We're definitely happy to make room for Bug in our home!
As you shop for Christmas gifts for your children, did you ever wonder, "How safe is this toy?" HealthyToys.org, a website run by the nonprofit Ecology Center organization, has released its second annual consumer guide to toxic chemicals in toys. On the site, you can search for or browse hundreds of popular toys by name, brand, and toy type, and find out how they tested for lead and other contaminants including bromide, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury. All of those chemicals are things we can probably all agree shouldn't be found in children's toys!
This holiday season, how about searching out toys that actually help inspire your children's creativity and imagination and help with their development? Here are a few tips from Meg Stiefvater, early childhood parenting coach for Parenting on the Run, to help you choose toys that will inspire and enable children's imaginitive play.
The holidays are just around the corner. Every ad space out there is trying to convince you to buy, buy, buy toys. Many games and toys entice parents and kids with the wow factor, but it is usually those wow factor toys that end up broken or left at the bottom of the toy chest as kids go back to those great toys that inspire creativity and imagination.
What are toys that enhance development and inspire creativity in children? Toys that hit a variety of developmental areas, are open ended, and can each and everyday offer a child a different way to use it, are materials you want to look for.
As you navigate the barrage of choices out there think about areas of a child’s development and toys that compliment each area.
The following list of developmental areas and matching toys should start you on your way to long lasting imaginative play:
My son has been an avid Mac user since he was around 18 months old (although I do try to limit the amount of time he spends on it). Since computers are a part of his life, I like to find educational games that spark his imagination and inspire learning. This week I received a DVD-ROM copy of Mia Reading: Bugaboo Bugs!, part of the Mia’s Big Adventure Collection series, a neat computer reading game that offers a great balance of fun and education. My son had a blast playing some of the games and adventures, and I have to say I was really impressed with how quickly he started to spell words, and comprehend sentences, all while having fun.