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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s hard to know what books will resonate with a child, but this one sure did. Even a year or two after first reading it, our four-year-old still pulls it off the shelf and wants us to read it.
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.”
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.
We got this used and it may be ‘out of print’ now. It was an enormous hit with our two-year-old and remained so until he was 4 or 5. The tracks don’t fit with any of the other track-based toys we have, and some of the plastic fittings have gotten worn over the years, but we keep it in a plastic tub in the attic and pull it down every now and then for the kids to play with.
The tracks are patterned as road on one side and train rails on the other, so you can flip them depending on whether you want to drive a car or a train. Seems trivial as an adult, but it appeals to young kids.
And most of the fun is in putting it together, rather than actually playing with it. It’s essentially a 3D puzzle that the child assembles, with the trick being how to get the track to loop around and reconnect with itself.