Robot Turtles board game

This is a clever game that got a lot of media attention when it came out, touting its ability to teach STEM concepts, specifically logical thinking.

The box says for ages 4 and up but I don’t think 4-year-olds are able to grasp all the rules of the game, which are a bit complicated even for me. However, once we laid out all the pieces, we came up with all sorts of new games to play and had quite a lot of fun building ‘snow forts’ and taking turns trying to move the ‘lasers’ around in order to melt them.

My son got quite obsessed with the game in fact, even though we had yet to actually play it according to the official rules, and every day for about a week he wanted to play again, until he eventually got tired of it. It sits prominently on a shelf in the living room and we’ll get it down again soon. The reason we haven’t yet is because the rules are complex enough that an adult has to sit with the kids and walk them through each step.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! board game

This is based on a book by Mo Willems. None of us were familiar with his stuff until after we got the game, but that didn’t matter.

The box says it’s for ages 3 and up, but the rules are too complicated for our 3-year-old. However, the board and pieces lend themselves to making up new rules and we’ve been able to have fun playing the game even when skipping some of the rules.

The box also says for 2 to 4 players, but it’s not much fun with only 2 players. It’s much better with 4. So I wouldn’t advise this game if it’s just going to be, for example, one parent and one child playing.

The spinner is cheaply made and was sometimes frustrating to spin, but generally the look and feel of the board and pieces are very appealing to children and they wanted to play it as soon as they saw it, even without any understanding of what the rules were.

LEGO Life magazine

LEGO has a free magazine that comes out 5 times per year.

In some ways the thing is one huge ad, but the puzzles and activities (mazes, code-breaking, etc.) are pretty fun and our 6-year-old looks forward to it coming in the mail.

The cost is free, but you do have to sign up for a Lego ID, which means giving your email address.

Ask magazine

Price: $29.95
Was: $44.45

I had never heard of Ask until we got it as a gift. It’s somewhat in the same vein as Ranger Rick, but with a much snarkier tone. There is Marvin, a raccoon character in Ask, but unlike Rick, Marvin is a bit of a jerk.

There are no ads and each issue is a mix of long-form articles and comics.

What is most striking about Ask is the articles are quite deep and detailed. Articles on candy, or explosions, or glass get into the chemistry and physics of the subject with much more detail than is found in most media aimed at adults.

Ranger Rick Jr. magazine

Price: $24.95
Was: $49.90

In this digital age, tangible media like postcards and magazines are special for children. I like magazine subscriptions as gifts because they continue being a part of the child’s life for months later.

Ranger Rick Jr. is the version of Ranger Rick for younger kids and comes out 10 times per year. It is published by the National Wildlife Federation and it focuses on animals and nature.

Unlike some media aimed at kids, the tone of Ranger Rick is very gentle and mild and there are no ads for sugary breakfast cereals or whatever.

Wallace and Gromit

I remember seeing “A Grand Day Out” at an animation festival around 1990, and then seeing “The Wrong Trousers” and “A Close Shave” a few years later. I was so thrilled by them (not least by the incredible chase scenes toward the end of ‘Trousers’ and ‘Shave’) that I seriously considered animation as a career.

Our kids love these, in particular the first one, “A Grand day Out” in which Wallace and Gromit build a rocket to visit the Moon. We’ve tried to show them more recent Wallace and Gromit adventures such as “A Matter of Loaf and Death” and “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” but they found them to be a bit too scary.

The themes are very much G-rated and are hilarious for both kids and adults.

Geronimo Stilton

I had never heard of Geronimo Stilton before having kids, and just randomly stumbled across these CDs at the library when planning a road trip. These were a big hit and we started playing them in the evening at bedtime.

The concept is that Geronimo Stilton is a mouse and a newspaper editor who winds up in zany adventures with his sister and nephew and others. Geronimo is a bit of a nebbish and a reluctant hero, making the stories comical.

There are something like 30 stories that have been read and recorded on CDs, in collections of 2 or 3. The narrator of the first few CDs is Edward Herrmann and of the others is Bill Lobley. Lobley in particular is a very skilled voice actor and he makes the characters and story very entertaining, enough to engage parents as well as children.

It turns out that Geronimo Stilton is practically a media empire, with dozens of chapter books, comic books, graphic novels, audio CDs, and a TV cartoon. It was fun for our kids to hear the stories first on audio, and later to read the comic versions, putting faces to the characters they had become familiar with.

Smithsonian Folkways Children’s Collection

This was a Christmas gift and a surprise huge hit with the kids. We had it in the car for a long road trip to their grandpa and nana’s house and we ended up playing it over and over and for weeks later. It is one of very few CDs where the kids want to sing along and some of the songs are so catchy that all of us (adults too) often randomly start singing one chorus or another around the house.

More information on the Smithsonian site:

“Twenty-six songs, play-party games, and poems selected from over 200 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and Folkways Records present a panorama of music performed for and by young children. Includes notes, song texts, and a complete list of recordings for children. Well-loved songs and unexpected treasures from Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Langston Hughes, Ella Jenkins, Suni Paz, Pete Seeger, and others.”

LeapPad Ultra

We got this second-hand. It’s pretty expensive and we wouldn’t have bought it new. The kids love it, to the point where we have to confiscate it when screen time gets out of hand, and we can use it as a bargaining tool.

It’s basically a computer tablet, like a big smart phone. The default apps are pretty good, but to get more you have to pay $5 or more for each one. And if you get it used, like we did, you have to set up a new account to download new apps, and doing that wipes all the previously-downloaded apps.

The video apps have only 3 or so video clips in each bundle, and we got the ones with that annoying git, Caillou, which our three-year-old watches repeatedly. But the other apps seem genuinely educational while also entertaining.

I can see that one of the big parenting issues in front of us is managing the usage of electronic devices.

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles Schultz

 

Our family enjoys watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special every year. The adults get the nostalgia and pleasure of sharing something from our childhoods with the kids, and the kids seem to really like the Peanuts characters. When I was a kid, I read Peanuts every day in the newspaper, and the TV specials were a treat just a few times each year, that we anticipated weeks in advance. Now, the kids don’t really know what a newspaper is, and can watch and rewatch the TV specials online as much as they like.

This book is a fairly faithful book adaptation of the TV special, with stills from the show and a transcription of most of the dialogue, so if you like the special you’ll probably like the book.