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Image Credit: © Steve Wilson | santa-clause | CC by 2.0

I adore Christmas. I love the lights and the decorations, the music and the good cheer. I get all nostalgic about “the reason for the season,” lapsed Catholic that I am, and I especially love the whole notion of Santa, particularly through the wide eyes of our four kiddos.

Really, it’s downright magical.

But with an eight year old in the house, I’ve been thinking lately about what I’m going to say the day he stares up at me and asks, in all his innocence, “Is Santa real?”

It’s a big question, and thank goodness for all those parents who have gone before me, the ones who have stuttered and bumbled and thought really, really fast before tripping over their explanations – and then blogging about them.

I’ve laughed and gasped and shaken my head over these stories, but I did stumble across a real gem. It’s so perfect that I pinned it to a board I have with Tooth Fairy printables (so cute!) and recipes for cloud dough and chore board DIYs (one day…).

The exact source of this link isn’t clear, so all I have is the pinned image of a lined sheet of paper. It reads like the second page of a two-page letter, but it’s okay, because the good stuff is right here:

“You’ll need to be able to believe in things you can’t measure or hold in your hand. Now you know the secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has help from all of the people whose hearts he has filled with joy. With full hearts, Mommy and Daddy take our turns helping Santa do a job that would otherwise be impossible. So no, we are not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. We are on his team, and now you are too.”

I mean, bravo.

I long ago decided that when they asked me, I wouldn’t lie to my kids about tooth fairies and Santa and Easter bunnies. When they ask serious, grown-up questions, they get serious answers.

Age appropriate, always, but honest.

And while it’s pretty easy to just stick to facts when you’re explaining how the baby is going to get out of your stomach, the magic of Santa is something else altogether.

That’s why I love that answer. I probably won’t write it in a letter, and I’m sure I won’t remember it verbatim. But the gist of it resonates with me, and when my son looks me in the eye and asks me for the truth about Santa, my answer will be a version of what that mother told her children.

And I think it will be good.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! Now that we’ve all stuffed ourselves and, hopefully, had a great day with the family – it’s time to get a little Christmas shopping done.

I stayed up extra late last night/this morning to scour Amazon for deals they’re running on any and all of the 400+ Toys featured in our gift guides this year. I really hope this goes a long way to saving you a little time and money today!

Before you get to shopping, don’t forget to Bookmark our new page:

NEW THIS YEAR: Check out our Alerts Page for Sales on All of the Toys from our Famous Gift Guides – Updated Daily!

OR

SIGN UP HERE FOR DAILY Alerts on Sales on the Gift Guide Toys

*note: The deals below aren’t all specifically labeled as “Black Friday” sales, so I’m not exactly sure when they end, could be today, could be this weekend – consider yourself warned. Also, for more deals,be sure to follow our facebook page – which we are continually updating with the latest sales through December! Read More

Happy Turkey Day!  Today Janssen is here with a classic Thanksgiving craft that takes me back to my own days spent at the kids table.  

This one is simple, inexpensive, and can be used both for craft time and dramatic play afterward.

P.S. Speaking of Thanksgiving, did you hear what we’re doing to make Black Friday and all your holiday shopping way easier this year?

NEW THIS YEAR: Check out our Alerts Page for Sales on All of the Toys from our Famous Gift Guides – Updated Daily!

 

This craft is so simple, I took all the supplies to grandma’s house this year so the kids could make their hats while I’m working on Thanksgiving dinner (and there’s still time for you to do the same!).

When I’m making play costumes for holidays, I want them to be inexpensive and easy to make. This project uses one sheet of black poster board to make two pilgrim hats. Considering I bought my poster board at Target for 99 cents, that was a price I could feel pretty comfortable with.

Supplies

  • Black poster board
  • Pen
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • White printer paper
  • Gold paint
  • Paintbrush

Instructions

Lay your poster board on the floor Read More

Each year my mega gift guides collection grows in popularity and each year, right around this time, I start seeing a lot of my favorite items from the gift guides go on sale. And each year I try to figure out the best way to quickly let you know about these sales before they are over.

One of my favorite things about this time of year, after all, is getting my kiddos the perfect engaging toy at a steal of a deal!

So this year I’m once again trying something new.

Because most social media simply won’t allow me to reach all of my followers when I want to, I’ve decided to create this sales page to keep you all as updated as I can with affiliate links to all the sales.

My suggestion?

BOOKMARK THIS PAGE!!! (and share it with your friends if you like). On your phone, on your computer-  where ever you’ll get a chance to check in on it daily.

Or, to always have the updated list, simply:

SIGN UP HERE FOR DAILY EMAILS

 

I will put the newest deals I see, as well as the guide the pick is from at the top of the page as well as the date that I found the sale. My hope is this will make it super simple for us all to get our kids some high-quality toys at some great prices!

Ready for today’s Deals? Here we go…

Today’s Deals

50% Off Plan Toys

Up to 60% Off Disney, Starwars, Super Hero, and other dress up

Stocking Stuffer Games Under $10

Fire HD 6 Kids Edition with Kid-Proof Case $149.99 $119.99

(This is the one we bought last summer at the best price I’ve seen!)

From the The Best S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) Toys Gift Guide

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Snap Circuits Jr. Electronics Discover Kit $34.99 $19.25 (5 – 7 years)

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Hottest Deals Going On Today:

Scroll down for full descriptions of each of these finds

Hot Wheels Star Wars Escape from Jakku Play Set $49.99 $12.80

This price has been slashed today! (Even if you’re done Christmas shopping, at this price, this is a great one to stock up on for birthday party gifts.)

Bruder Crane Truck $63.99 $43.94

Both my sons (and every boy that’s ever come to our house) LOVES this huge working crane truck complete with stabilizer feet– this is a better price than we paid two years ago!

ALEX Toys Artist Studio Painter’s Tool Box $38.99 $22.50

What a fantastic gift (and a fantastic price!) for the child that’s ready to take their art to the next level.

Planes Fire & Rescue Die Cast Collection $56.99 $23.85

Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Set $29.99 $17.99 (4+ years)

Playmobil Harbor Police Station with Speed Boat $59.99 $25.61

Plus 25% off other select Playmobile sets here.

Thinkfun Zingo Game $19.99 $16.79 (4 – 8 years)

Jumbo Checker Rug Game $19.99 $14.99 (5+ years)

This looks so fun and it’s a steal! It’s currently also being sold for $29.99 (plus $4.95 shipping) at The Land of Nod

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Mower $19.99 $14.99

Matchbox Elite Rescue Strike Hawk Chopper $44.99 $17.68

This one gets great reviews and is a total steal!

Inside Out Large Talking Joy Doll $24.99 $9.21

Learning Resources Puppet-on-a-Stick $26.99 $8.79 (2 – 8 years)

Best price I’ve seen on these (set of 3: really fun idea to put one in each stocking).

Learning Resources Pretend & Play Doctor Set $39.99 $22.49 (kids no longer mouthing toys – 6 years)

Educational Insights Design & Drill Activity Center $39.99 $28.35 (3 – 7 years)

One of the 25 Best Selling Toys of the Year!

First 100 Word Baby Board Book $5.99 $3.62 (9 months – 3 years)

One of the 25 Best Selling Toys of the Year!

Roominate Village (Amazon Exclusive) $99.99 $69.99

Stomp Rocket Jr. Glow Kit $14.99 $11.59

One of the 25 Best Selling Toys of the Year!

Learning Resources Pretend & Play School Set $36.99 $23.49

One of the 25 Best Selling Toys of the Year!

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

From The Gift Guides

From The Best S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Toys Gift Guide

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Mind-Blowing Science Kit $22.00 $17.99 (4+ years w/ adult supervision)

Performing some basic science experiments at home is a great way to inject a little learning into your quality time with the kids.  This set gets good reviews from parents and comes with step-by-step instructions for each experiment. There’s also a detailed science guide that provides adults with “mind blowing science secrets” that help to answer questions about what’s happening in each experiment.

MPMK Toy Gift Guide

Bedtime Math: The Truth Comes Out $15.99 $13.91 (4 – 8 years)

When my son was in kindergarten, he really started getting into math and began asking for story problems at night before bed, so imagine my excitement when I saw this book, which contains just that! From the publisher, “Inside this book, families will find fun, mischief-making math problems to tackle—math that isn’t just kid-friendly, but actually kid-appealing. With over 100 math riddles on topics from jalapeños and submarines to roller coasters and flamingos, this book bursts with math that looks nothing like school. And with three different levels of challenge (wee ones, little kids, and big kids), there’s something for everyone.” This is a great way to change up story time at night and encourage math skills in kids that are excited about the subject as well as those who need some help getting excited. Also check out the first and third books in the series.

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

No Stress Chess $17.99 $13.59 (5+ years)

When my kindergartner came home from school one day asking me to teach him to play chess, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I was excited because, despite spending a lot of our time together on sports-related activities, I have great memories of playing chess with my dad growing up. On the other hand, I was afraid he was a little young for it and might get frustrated and give up on the game all together. Enter “No Stress Chess”. This genius game uses cards to teach young kids how to play in stages. The cards tell you which piece to move, so even children (and adults) who have never played the game can jump right in. The moves for each piece are on the cards as well as on the game board and the first stage makes the game about chance, not skill – you simply draw a card and do what it says, perfect for learning how the pieces work. Once that is mastered, you can draw 3 cards at a time and decide which one you want to go with to introduce some strategy to the game. Finally, when you’re ready to play chess for real, just get rid of the cards and flip the board over to a traditional chess board… UPDATE: We bought this set and it was so incredibly successful that BOTH my 7 year old AND my 5 year old taught themselves to play chess with it.

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Snap Circuits Jr. Electronics Discover Kit $34.99 $19.25 (5 – 7 years)MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Educational Insights Design & Drill Activity Center $39.99 $28.35 (3 – 7 years)

I particularly like how this particular toy combines fine motor skills with pattern recognition AND adds a great dramatic play element. We got it for our son when he was 4 and he played with it quite a bit until his little old sister took it over. Now our 1 1/2 year old is starting to get in on the fun(mostly sorting and manipulating the pieces with his hands for now but I anticipate him picking up the drill pretty soon). The popularity of this toy has also led to some cool variations, including theDesign & Drill Flower Power Station and, my favorite, the Design & Drill BrightWorks– which is like if the Design & Drill had a baby with the classic Lite Brite from my childhood (in other words, the pieces light up and it’s totally awesome).

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

 

Fire HD 6 Kids Edition with Kid-Proof Case $149.99 $119.99

(This is the one we bought last summer at the best price I’ve seen!)

Let me just start by saying that we have been super impressed and happy with our decision to go with the Fire tablets for our kids. However, I find the multitude of options that Amazon offers to be very confusing! So I’m going to start with what we love about the Fire and then I’m going to tell you exactly which one, and which accessories, I recommend and why.

3 Reasons to Chose the Amazon Fire Tablet:

1) State-of-the-Art Parental Controls

By far, my favorite feature of the Fire- and the ultimate reason that I feel it is superior to other tablets for kids – is the state-of-the art parental control features. The flexibility of these features is unparalleled in my mind and I so, so appreciate that I can set the different profiles for each of my kids and forget them so that the tablet can be the bad guy in terms of telling the kids that they can’t do something or that it’s time to shut it off. Along with setting which hours during the day the Fire will turn on for each child (e.g. 8:00 am to 5:00 pm each day), I can also set specific time limits for each kind of activity- i.e. 20 minutes on apps, 30 minutes reading books, and 0 minutes for TV/movies each day. I can also set up educational goals, such as reading for 40 minutes each day, that have to be achieved before other things like apps can be accessed.

2) Amazon FreeTime Unlimited

The second thing that really sold me on the Fire is Amazon FreeTime Unlimited … As a parent who is already a little apprehensive about tablet time for my young kids, I am extremely picky about what apps they’re engaging with while they’re using them. Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is an all-in-one subscription for kids that offers unlimited access to thousands of kid-friendly books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, and games and, for the most part, I’ve been really impressedwith them. It’s a very easy way to get my kids new content that I feel I can trust. Plus, there’s a new kid-safe camera app that allows them to take pictures and edit them by adding stickers, drawings, and more. Parents can view photos and videos taken by their children in a separate photo gallery, and have the option to auto-save to Amazon Cloud Drive. Finally, while in the FreeTime app, kids are unable to access the internet, social media, or email and are also unable to make purchases on their own.

3) – Open Platform

The third and final thing that the Fire has going for it is that it’s a true tablet and, thus, an open-system. That means that unlike other kids’ tablet, I have full control over the apps that are loaded onto my kids tablets. If there’s a FreeTime Unlimited app that I don’t want them to have, I can easily delete it. Conversely, if there’s an app that I do want them to be able to use, like Minecraft or an awesome new educational app I saw on pinterest, I can download it to the device without a problem.

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Set $29.99 $17.99 (4+ years)

This kit of real science tools is perfectly sized for little hands. It comes with 10 double sided activity cards, beaker, magnifying glass, funnel, eyedropper, flask, tweezers, googles, large 6″ test tube and stand, and 2 small test tubes.  The authenticity of these items will have your little scientists dying to experiment and they’ll serve great double duty for dramatic play too.Also Worth Considering:

MPMK Toys Gift Guide

Jumbo Checker Rug Game $19.99 $14.99 (5+ years)

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

From the The Best Toys for Keeping Kids Active Inside & Out Gift Guide:

 

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Stomp Rocket Jr. Glow Kit $14.99 $11.59 (3+ years), Dueling Double Stomp Rocket Kit  (3+ years) and Ultra Stomp Rocket $19.99 (8 – 16 years)

My kids both got to play with this at science camp this summer, during their study of physics, and fell in love. They both, my son especially, get a little hyper in the afternoon and I knew we’d all love having this around for them to stomp to their hearts content in the backyard. Lucky for us, we got one for C’s 6th birthday and I was absolutely right. The concept is simple, stomp (or jump) on the launch pad to send a foam tipped rocket up to 200 ft in the air. I like that both sets come with 4 rockets so the kids get to launch multiple times before running around to pick them all up and do it all over again.  Obviously the glow-in-the dark aspect of the Jr. Glow Kit is pretty cool. Siblings will love going together, and not having to take turns, and hosting friendly competitions with the Dueling Double Stomp Rocket Kit. In summary, these simple battery-free toys are multi-award winners and get great reviews. Plus they’re cheap – gotta love that!

 

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Live Butterfly Garden $19.99 $15.99 (3 – 10 years) 

Both kids had one of these in their preschool/toddler group classes but both missed the butterflies coming out of their cocoons due to not having class that day so I’ve always wanted to have a kit at home for them to experience. Happily, S got a kit for her birthday so we’ll be trying it out soon. The stellar reviews this kit gets has me confident we’re going to have a great time with it and that it willget us spending even more time outdoors.

Also worth considering:

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Up to 40% off Zing Bows $24.99 $14.99

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

From the Best Toys for Building & Constructing Gift Guide

50% Off Select K’NEX and Tinkertoy, and Lincoln Log Collections including:

MPMK Toys Gift Guide

Tinker Toy Essentials Value Set (100 Pieces) $39.99 $25.84

Tinkertoys are a total classic (my grandparents had a set I used to play with whenever I would visit them as a little girl) and this essential set would be a valuable addition to any toy bin. The company also offers a Tinkertoy Pink Building Set. There has been a lot of debate about whether pink and purple building toys are a good way to entice girls to build or to reinforce gender stereotypes. My stance is that you know your child best and you know what will work for her.  If the color pink is the only thing that will entice her to start constructing, then go for it. If she just wants to build then stick with the standard set!

 

Also worth considering:

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

  • The super cool K’NEX Mighty Makers line for girls – think Goldiblox for under $15! $19.99 $9.24 (I showed the underwater set to my 5 year old and she got really excited which she doesn’t always do with building toys so we’ve already ordered it for under the tree this year.)

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

  • The equally cool K’NEX K-Force line– basically K’NEX sets that allows kids to build their own nerf guns and arrows. $44.99 $24.93

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

From the Best Toys for Babies & Young Toddlers Gift Guide

Buy a Select Fisher-Price you, get a Laugh & Learn Click n’ Learn Remote

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Click ‘n Learn Remote $11.99 $6.89 (6 months – 3 years) 

This looks like it serves a similar function as the Take Along Tunes and also gets great reviews. With this one, baby can learn about numbers, opposites, colors, greetings and first words. Buy one of each and keep one in mom’s car and the other in dad’s just to mix it up.  You won’t be sorry.

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

First 100 Words $5.99 $3.62 (9 months – 3 years)

This quintessential first book for babies is uber popular, and with good reason. It’s a sturdy board book with a lightly padded cover that’s easy for baby to hold (and, let’s be honest, mouth) and it’s full of bold, beautiful pictures. Words are grouped together into categories making this a great tool for vocabulary building and shared reading time between mom/dad and baby (who pediatricians now recommend reading to at least 15 minutes a day from birth!)

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

From the Best Toys for Two-Year-Olds Gift GuideMPMK Toy Gift Guides

Learning Resources Mini Muffin Match Up $24.99 $18.48 (non-mouthing kids – 5 years)

The first thing to say about this toy is, of course, not to leave a child alone with it if they still put things in their mouth. Once you’re out of that stage, though, this is a truly AWESOME way to keep young kids occupied for a really long time. (One of the few so well suited to the preschool set.) Moms figured out long ago that letting kids sort things in a muffin tin is a great quiet time activity. This play set expands on that idea by adding in multicolored mini muffins, dice, and cards that can be placed inside the muffin tin for sorting and math purposes. There are also some interestingly shaped tweezers for fine motor work. All in all this one has A LOT of play-ability.

Also Worth Considering:

MPMK Toys Gift Guides

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Mower $19.99 $14.95

 

MPMK Toy Gift Guide

ALEX Toys Rub a Dub Water Flutes $16.50 $8.52 (the bath drums are on sale too!)

A Parents Magazine Best Toy of the year, looks like such a great bath toy. There are 5 in the set which you could easily break up for stocking stuffers too.

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

From The Best Toys for Quality Dramatic Play Gift Guide

Play Toys Garage

Plan Toys City Series Parking Garage $99.99 $89.99 (3+ years)

My oldest got this garage for Christmas several years ago.  He and his sister really like the working elevator and it’s a favorite toy for group play during play dates. I really like how durable it’s been.

 

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Playmobil Harbor Police Station with Speed Boat $59.99 $25.61

When I reached out to our newsletter subscribers asking for their favorite toys for this list, I got lots of replies that Playmobil sets were a hit with their kids. This one looks like it provides lots of opportunities for role playing.

Note: Check out the other Playmobil set on big sale here.

 

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Learning Resources Pretend & Play School Set $36.99 $23.49 (3 – 8  years)

This is such a popular toy and it’s no mystery why. Kids absolutely love playing school, especially when they have awesome props like this, and parents love how it fosters a love of learning. We bought it for my 4 and 6 year olds last Christmas and they play with it ALL THE TIME. From the manufacturer, “Part of the Pretend & Play line that fosters healthy early childhood development by helping kids interpret and imitate the world around them. The 149-piece set includes tri-fold board, grade book, stickers, hall passes, dry erase board, hand pointer, crayons, double-sided calendar, double-sided map, and more.” From a reviewer, “I gave this to my 6 year old last Christmas and it has been one of the most-played-with gifts ever. She is now 7 and she still pulls this out and plays with it all the time. She loves to play school with her younger brother. This set is perfect for 5-8 year olds. Highly recommend!”

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Learning Resources Teaching Cash Register $54.99 $47.77 (3 – 8 years)

An obvious extension of the play kitchen and all the play food that comes with it, is playing store.  And the biggest prop needed for some good store play is a cash register – which as an awesome tool for burgeoning math skills. My kids started hoarded the register at a local drop in play center for over an hour at a time a couple year and I knew we had to get one for Christmas. A lot of research pointed to this one as being the best learning register on the market thanks to a working calculator and scale as well as being able to recognize real money and even incorporating math games.  This is a toy that will grow with your kids.

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Learning Resources Puppet-on-a-Stick $26.99 $8.79 (2 – 8 years)

Playing with puppets is absolutely wonderful for storytelling and for learning about emotions, not to mention serving as a great tool for kids to communicate and learn through role playing. Educational Insight’s award-winning Puppets-on-a-Stick are almost irresistible with their rubberized from and super fun movable mouths. We got the unicorn versions of these as stocking stuffers for the kids this year and they are so impressive (and big!) in real life.

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Learning Resources Pretend & Play Doctor Set $39.99 $22.49 (kids no longer mouthing toys – 6 years)

A quality doctor kit is another excellent dramatic play toy for both boys and girls. Kids like being patients but really enjoy the power involved in getting to play care-taker (which can be really nice when your tired because you can play with your child by basically laying still and playing “patient”).  These kits are also nice for easing doctor visit anxiety. I really like how comprehensive this set is and the fact that it comes with a durable carrying case to keep track of everything.

Also Worth Considering:

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

 

KidKraft Once Upon A Time Dollhouse $249.99 $156.95MPMK Toy Gift Guides

From the Best Kid Games Gift Guide.

Up to 35% Off Thinkfun Games (Our FAVORITE GAME COMPANY!) including:

MPMK Toy Gift Guide

Thinkfun Zingo Game $19.99 $16.79 (4 – 8 years)

This is another super popular game with families with young children and it was another of our family’s first games. A lot like BINGO, players get picture cards and try to fill them up.  There is a speed component too that we use about half the time with our 5 year old and skip with our 3 year old. We have both the standard version and the numbers/math version and both are regularly requested by the kids. Side Note: When your pre-readers become emerging readers, Zingo Word Builder, What’s Gnu? and Zingo Sight Words are also excellent!!

20% Off Select Wonder Forge Games including

MPMK Toy Gift Guide

 Cat in the Hat, I Can Do That! Game $19.99 $15.99 (3 – 8 years)

One of our kids’ first favorite games, this one is great for a mixed age range because it doesn’t require a lot of reading or focus. In fact, the whole point is to get up and move around and be silly– a life-saver on days when you’re stuck inside!

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Richard Scary Busy Town $24.99 $19.75 (3 – 8 years)

I have heard great things about this cooperative, non-competitive game from multiple sources but was really convinced when a mom of one of my son’s good friends was raving about it. Everything about this game is impressive, from the 6 foot long game board, to the amount of imagination and teamwork required. In fact, the company behind this game, Wonder Forge who also produces another of our favorites, Cat in the Hat, I Can Do That!, has won over 120 prestigious awards by creating good-for-you games that encourage teamwork, healthy competition, and get-up-and-go active play. This is the perfect game for children of multiple ages to play together and for when you hit that stage when kids pout a lot about losing or start to become ultra competitive.

Up to 25% Off Games for Family Game Night Classics 

MPMK Toy Gift Guide

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

The Best Toys for Vehicle Lovers Gift Guide

Bruder Crane Truck $63.99 $43.84

MPMK Toy Gift Guide

If you’ve got a true vehicle lover at home then you know they can NEVER get enough construction vehicles to push around the floor (or around the sandbox).  The Bruder versions are each realistic, high quality options that won’t disappoint. Their working parts are incredibly durable and our son absolutely adores his large working crane truck with stabilizer feet, which he uses for all sorts of imaginative play. Last year the only thing he got for Christmas was this flatbed truck and backhoe which is all he wanted, and he was totally thrilled.

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Honorable Mentions

These guys didn’t quite make the cut into our gift guides this year but they’re still great toys- especially at these prices!

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Matchbox Elite Rescue Strike Hawk Chopper $44.99 $17.68

This one gets great reviews and is a total steal!

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

ALEX Toys Artist Studio Painter’s Tool Box $38.99 $22.50

What a fantastic gift (and a fantastic price!) for the child that’s ready to take their art to the next level.

 

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Hot Wheels Star Wars Escape from Jakku Play Set $49.99 $12.80

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Roominate Village (Amazon Exclusive) $99.99 $69.99

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Planes Fire & Rescue Die Cast Collection $56.99 $23.85MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Inside Out Large Talking Joy Doll $24.99 $9.21 (and more Inside Out Dolls at 35% off here)

MPMK Toy Gift Guides

Up to 40% Off Select Maisto Remote Control VehiclesMPMK Toy Gift Guides

Other Deals Happening Right Now

Check here to see if that game, toy, or character your kid has been begging for is currently on sale:

MPMK's Famous Toy Gift Guides

P.S. See all 15 of our 2016 Gift Guides here.

Still want more ideas? Here’s all 10 of the MPMK Gift Guides, organized by your child’s interest, including:

Plus, our five guides organized by age:

*Post contains affiliate links.

Thanks so much to our sponsors EVITE® and Rubbermaid® Easy Find Lids™ for providing the recipe and ideas for today’s post and thank you for supporting the brands that support MPMK.

I admit, when I think of holiday desserts, a cold treat doesn’t usually spring to mind. These cranberry granitas are the exception.

Why? Mostly because they’re so fun to make but also because they make for such a “wow” presentation at holiday gatherings.

It also doesn’t hurt that every step in the recipe is super simple and really engaging for kids. Mixing it all up on the stove, freezing in handy Rubbermaid® Easy Find Lids™ containers, scraping away with a fork, and then freezing again… It’s part science experiment, part sensory play, and part yummy treat.

With all the baking that goes on this time of year, I have to say I also really appreciate the low mess factor. (No countertop covered in flour and powdered sugar to clean up- hooray!)

Simple Holiday Dessert: Cranberry Granita- part science experiment, part sensory experience, part yummy treat- this is a must-try with the kids this year!

Plus, it’s so pretty and perfect as a party dessert. (I’m totally stealing the presentation suggestion of serving in cocktail glasses on a tray decorated with fresh cranberries.)

You could even make Read More

*This post is sponsored by The Quaker Oats Company, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Who doesn’t love a good holiday cookie? Fun to make with the kids, share with the neighbors and, of course, to eat! Plus they make the house smell heavenly.

As part of our official role as a member of The Oat Authority, we’re once again teaming up with The Quaker Oats Company to offer you lots of simple and yummy ways to use their classic oats. Today is without a doubt one of my favorites.

Here’s our contributor, Janssen, with the details…

When we moved to Arizona this summer, our highest priority was finding a house in a neighborhood where we’d feel really at home.

Our new house may have questionable green carpet and mismatched kitchen counters (a “stunning” combination of granite and laminate), but we love our neighborhood and every day we feel lucky to live here.

This weekend, our neighborhood is having their annual holiday kickoff, turning on the lights at the entrance, caroling and then inviting everyone back to the community center for apple cider and homemade cookies. (For all that, you’d probably be okay with green carpet too).

Of course, those homemade cookies don’t just appear out of thin air. Someone has to bake them, and when they asked for volunteers I eagerly agreed to donate a few dozen because nothing seems more cozy than baking with my children. Read More

It’s time for another “MPMK Gift Guide Glimpse”… For those of you not exactly sure what I’m talking about, this is a day when we highlight one of our favorite sections of the:

 2016 MPMK Gift Guides

Why?

Because I realize that our MEGA gift guides are a lot to take in- detailed descriptions and age recommendations of over 400 toys, books, games, and more divided into 15 themed guides takes some concentration to get through.

Update: See the Latest Sales on All our Picks Here!!

I’ve heard from several moms in fact, both via email and in real life, who have already spent a good hour or two immersed in them.

So this year, I’m trying to help you navigate the guides by highlighting some of my favorite parts.

Over the next few months, I’ll be stopping in every once in a while to showcase a favorite section from one of the 15 guides.

My hope is that it will help you find the perfect gift for under the tree!

Today we’re talking two-year-olds.

Aw, the terrible terrific twos- if ever there is a time in a child’s life that an engaging toy is worth it’s weight in gold, this is it. Of course, the tricky part is finding that magical item that will actually hold their attention for more than 5 minutes and help foster some developmental skills along the way.

We’ve bulked up the list a bit this year, so here area the first 20 of 35 picks- each and every one is sure to delight and engage the two year old in your life for longer then you’d believe. Enjoy!

 

  • Mega Bloks First Builders Big Building Bag, 80-Piece (Classic) $14.59 (15 mos – 2 1/2 years)

    I still remember my son receiving his first set of award-winning Megabloks for his first birthday. It took him a little while to figure out (kids typically grasp block building somewhere between 12 and 18 months), but once he did he started building like a mad man and never looked back!All my mom friends and I love Mega Bloks for our youngest kiddos, even more than the classicLEGO duplos. The locking mechanism is just a little bit easier for beginners to put together and pull apart. Plus the colors are beautiful and the zippered bag is very handy.

  • Tot Tube Playset – Toy Car and Ball Tunnel Ramp Race Track $18.95 (1 – 10 years)

    This deceptively simple toy is so much more than it appears. Parents and teachers rave about how the hours and hours their kids spend shooting things through this heavy duty tunnel. This is a great toy to get kids hypothesizing about, “what will happen when I… (put something heaver in, tilt it higher, put more than one thing in it, etc…) When my friend first introduced me to the tot tube, I really liked the idea but wondered if it was worth the money (couldn’t we essentially do the same thing with a cardboard wrapping paper tube?). What I like about this, though, is thatit’s a lot more durable than a cardboard tube, it’s wider shape accommodates bigger sized cars and balls, it canbreak apart for easy storage or you can attach more than one for a super long tunnel, and the kids can see through it- making it so much more engaging. Read the reviews on this one and I think you’ll be sold.

  • Little Helper Broom Set $13.66 (walking – 6 years) 

    One of the most surprising things about having toddlers and preschoolers is seeing how much they absolutely LOVE to clean! This is another item we’ve had for a few years now.  It’s very inexpensive and the kids really enjoy breaking it out to help with clean up when the opportunity arises or just using it to play pretend. Every toddler we know has this set and totally adores it and our 18 month old completely freaks out when he can’t find it.

  • Fisher-Price Bright Beats Dance & Move BeatBo $34.73 (9 months – 3 years)

    This is the hottest new baby toy of the year and it’s not too hard to see why. The happy look and bright colors of this little guy will be enticing to any young chid and his light up tricks, songs, phrases and dance moves are sure to get them moving and giggling too. There’seven a freeze dance function that will help bigger kids burn off some energy. From the manufacturer, “A press of BeatBo’s tummy or any of the buttons on his feet activates fun songs, learning content and dance moves. This futuristic friend even allows mommy or baby to record a phrase, and he’ll remix it into his favorite song! His three modes – Dance ‘n Move, Learning & Games, and Customized Sing-Along – “grow” with baby to make him a fun, entertaining companion for years to come! And all the while, he’s introducing baby to letters, colors, counting, music, cause & effect and more.” And one reviewer wrote, “A very versatile toy for abroad range of age groups. You could put it in front of a baby that has the ability to sit up on his/her own and they could clap and wiggle around to the songs. The flashing lights on the belly are very intriguing as well… For my 30month old daughter it is very educational. It teaches colors, the alphabet, and the freeze dance song is a great energy burner and a great tool to teach them that freeze means stop and they have to wait for the next cue. I will certainly buy this for all of my friends’ kids. It was especially helpful when I was trying to make dinner and Hallie wanted to be held and was under my feet, she picked up Little Guy and worked up a sweat dancing. I LOVE it!”

  • Educational Insights Magic Moves Talking Electronic Wand $21.99 (18 months – 9 years) Normally I’m not big on electronic toys with lots of sounds and lights, but when said toy can help my kids get rid of all their pent up energy inside on a stormy day, it becomes my new best friend. This inexpensive magical wand uses 90 silly commands (sway, creep, stomp like a dinosaur, leap) and 26 songs, along with a light show to get kids moving. This is one of those rare toys that’s great for siblings of different ages to play together (my 7-year-old, 5-year-old, and 18 month old all love it). It will keep the bigger kids interested (who doesn’t like having the mic and being the star of the show?) while developing listening skills in the younger set along with enriching their vocabulary and ability to follow directions.
  • Kidkraft Red Vintage Kitchen $142.95 (12 mos – 6 years)

    I know what you’re thinking – a one or two-year-old is too little to enjoy a big dramatic play toy like this. Once upon a time, I would have agreed with you – but then my baby boy starting pulling up and I got to see first hand how much he LOVES opening and shutting the doors, turning the knobs, taking the sink in and out and putting food in and out of all the compartments. Plus, I know he has years of enjoying it still ahead of him. The ideal time to buythis toy is around 18 months so yourchild gets the maximum amount of years out of it. We initially bought this for the big kids several years ago when they were 1 and 3 and couldn’t be happier with it as it still gets lots of play at ages 4 and 6.  I really like the look of the thing and I think the vibrant red is nicely gender neutral. Despite a small footprint, this kitchen still has all the amenities and both my kids enjoy regularly playing at it simultaneously. (Side note: people sometimes ask if kids will get too big for this smaller kitchen – mine are 95th percentile in height and haven’t had an issue). If you’re looking for a big wow gift from Santa (or parents or grandparents) this could very well be it!

  • Dirt Devil Junior Lights Sounds Upright Toy Vacuum $24.97 (walking – 7 years)

    I had to include this toy vacuum because it was the absolute favorite of my son AND literally every other kid in his toddler group when he was 2 to 3 years old. The class had 3 of them and there were still daily tussles over them between the kids… and that’s without even being allowed to have the batteries in them. (In fact, if you’re not a fan of toys that make sounds I’d suggest just never putting the batteries in – this will still be a fantastic pretend play toy). ThisDisney Minnie Bowtique Vacuum is also really cute and gets great reviews if you’re looking for something a little more, what’s the word, pink!

  • Playhuts starts at $8.98 (crawling – 8 years)

    This is a new addition to this list this year (and somewhat of a “doh” moment for me). We’ve had several playhuts throughout the years – some cheap, some expensive but more durable – all extremely successful in keeping my kiddos of varying ages happy and busy. Nevertheless, I still forgot them for this list until I polled my mom friends and they ALL brought up the power of the playhut. Because these guys can be so inexpensive, they’re kind of a no-brainer for me if you have the space. Currently my favorite are this Thomas version, this Beauty Boutique, and this Princess Castle with Glow-in-the-Dark Stars version. Also, I LOVE playhuts with tunnels like this one (more than doubles the fun). In fact, if you don’t have the space to have a play hut setup all the time, I would definitely recommend a tunnel that you can tuck away when not in use.

  • Fly Bike® Foldable Indoor/Outdoor Toddlers Glide Tricycle $39.99 (15 months – 3 years)

    This light weight, foldable, and sit-on version of the scooter lets even new walkers in on the fun. Young kids get to start out sitting on this scooter that can be used both indoors and outdoors. The biggest pro to me, beside the good price, is how incredibly easy this thing is to transport to the park, a friend’s house for a playdate, or anywhere else.

  • FirstBike Balance Bike $154.79 (22 months – 5 years)

    I think a balance bike will probably make it onto my gift guide for as long as I’m writing them. Both of my kids have been zooming around on bikes since they were 2 years old thanks to this genius idea of taking away the pedals and letting the kids pick up their feet and balance when they’re ready.  I also really love how lightweight they are.  Both kids could easily pick theirs up and carry it around as soon as they started using it. In previous years I’ve always recommended the Strider Balance Bike because that’s what we have and it’s worked great for us.  The only drawback has been when the kids get really good at it and can’t stop when going down steep hills due to the lack of brakes.  This FirstBike version comes with a hand brake that could come in very handy for those scenarios (no pun intended).

  • Little Tikes Gas ‘n Go Mower Toy $24.97 (15 mos – 5 years)

    This toy is great for taking dramatic play outdoors and, honestly, it’s totally worth getting just for the adorable pictures you’ll get of the kids following around Dad (or Mom) while they mow the lawn. Seriously, this toy is a real winner – it has lots of parts to interact with (pull cord, vrooming engine, push throttle, turning key and more) but doesn’t require batteries. It will ignite the kids imagination and get them moving at the same time.

  • Thinkfun Roll and Play Board Game $19.17 (18 months – 3 years)

    This is the first board game made specifically with young toddlers in mind. Toss the big plush cube and identify which colored side faces up. Choose a matching color card and perform the simple activity shown, such as “Make a happy face”, “Moo like a cow” or “Find something blue”.Designed for parent and child to play together, Roll & Play strengthens bonds and builds confidence while encouraging creativity, active play and gross motor skills. This seems like a great option if you have a preschooler who wants to play a family game with his or her younger sibling too. For another great young-toddler-friendly game, checkout Thinkfun’s Hello Sunshine Game $15.20 (18 months – 3 years) as well!

  • Playskool Busy Gears $29.34 (1 – 3 years) (We have the less expensive Monkey Version $14.68)

    At first I was put off by the look of this toy when my son received it for his first birthday- it seemed like a lot of plastic and lights and not a lot to actually do. But it is now one of his favorites, allowing him lots of opportunities to stack, push buttons, learn about cause and effect and even get a very basic introduction to mechanics. (I like that he can play with it with the lights and music on or off too). One similarly pleased reviewer wrote, “My son received this toy for his first birthday! I will be purchasing it as gifts for all my friends!! He LOVES pushing the button and listening the the music. I was wondering if he would be able to figure out the gears, but he has caught on very quickly and loves to take the gears off and put them back on. He also enjoys stacking the gears up and watching them go around! I like that it has a handle so he can carry it around with him. It keeps him involved for up to 20 minutes at a time!

  • Learning Resources Primary Science Mix and Measure Set $24.99 (18 months – 6 years)

    This set includes a scale, bowl, 3 self standing spoons and 6 unique cup designs to help children visualize quantities as well as activity cards to guide children in making mystery goo, puffy paint, slime and more. Because it allows those not quite ready to experiment to get in on the fun too, it’s a great toy for siblings of different ages as older kids can partake in real concocting while their younger counterparts pour to their heart’s contentment.  This is a fabulous toy perfect for playing with at the sink, in the tub, or at the water table.

  • Kidkraft Waterfall Mountain Train Set & Table $119.99 (2 – 8 years)

    We bought our son a train table for his 2nd birthday and we always say it’s one of the best purchases we’ve ever made. For over four years both he and his sister played with it several times a week.  And now his 18 month old brother is really starting to get into it. At 4 years old our oldest was able to completely construct the track by himself using the map and that added a whole new level of building play to this fantastic toy. I think the model we bought has been discontinued but this one is the same brand and has all of the same key components: a bridge, waterfall mountain, helicopter landing pad, and the all-important drawers for storing all the little pieces. If you’re going to be putting your train table in main living space, you may want to spring for the more expensive KidKraft Metropolis Train Set Table with Trundle Drawer.  It’s got a nicer “furniture” look (and that double-decker bridge is pretty cool too). Also, over the years we’ve amassed quite a collection of Thomas trains to go with this table.

Read the Rest of the List & See Picks #21 – #35 Here!

*Post contains affiliate links.

Share the list with your mom friends (they’ll thank you!) and don’t forget – you can also check out all 15 of our 2016 Gift Guides here or check out the one that you can use the most below:

All 10 of the MPMK Gift Guides, organized by your child’s interest, including:

Plus, our five guides organized by age:

 

Advent calendars have become such a HUGE part of Christmas these days – have you noticed? We’ve tried several variations over the years from our DIY Freezer Paper Stencil Advent Calendar and our Family Activities Advent Calendar to LEGO Advent and our Reading Advent Calendar. 

This year, though, with three kids including a feisty 1 1/2-year-old, I’m once again opting to go the super simple route.

Our free printable Christmas Joke countdown (created last year by our contributor MJ) takes zero effort from me once it’s up and S and C absolutely adored it last year. This year, at ages 7 and 5, they still can’t get enough puns and knock-knock jokes

Print your free calendar using the link below and you’ll be all set for December. Here’s our contributor Kristin with the details…

I don’t know about you, but my kids get enough sugar as it is this time of year. So when it comes to a Christmas countdown, I prefer for them to have some kind of activity advent.

But, alas, sometimes our schedules just don’t allow for us to have an activity every day in the month of December. What to do? Keep it simple… keep it punny. A quick little joke is a fun way to celebrate the holidays.

This handy free printable has 24 jokes for kids and an ornament for each day of December leading up to Christmas.

Think of it as an advent calendar that requires zero work and zero chocolate.

Read More

We’re back today with the big reveal of our latest Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life makeover- Janssen’s mudroom/family command center.

You may remember from our previous post, that Janssen had a bit of a fail the first time she attempted to get this room organized.

Today she’s back showing us how a little support from our latest sponsor, DYMOhelped her right the wrongs in this space.

I am so smitten with the “Hooray!” idea – total genius!

I seriously couldn’t believe what a huge difference a few labels made in our mudroom.

Ten minutes with the DYMO LabelMaker 160, a few neon label strips, and my mudroom was looking a thousand times better.

I started by deciding exactly what I wanted to go in each bin and making a corresponding label to go above each one (I love that there is a print screen on the Label Maker 160 so you don’t print something only to realize you made a typo).

I decided to do shoes, backpacks, library books, and sports gear. Immediately, I knew where everything should go, and my girls knew too. Read More

There are lots of signs that the holidays are around the corner: the radio is blaring Christmas tunes non-stop, every store is filled up with holiday treats, decorations, and gifts, and my inbox is filled with requests about what book to buy their child or niece or grandson as a gift.

So many of us want to buy books for the children in our lives – we want them to love books, share our favorite titles from our childhood, and give them something that won’t break or wear out in a few weeks.

But we also know that a book can be a tricky gift. What’s the right reading level? What will they think is fun instead of a book that you get a perfunctory thank-you card for, but you know they never actually read a page?

Fortunately, as a huge reader myself, a mom to three kids and a former librarian that served 800 elementary school students, I’ve learned a little about what books stay pristine on the shelves and what books end up beloved and read over and over again.

Here are my picks for whatever ages you’re shopping for:

Read More

It’s time for another “MPMK Gift Guide Glimpse”… For those of you not exactly sure what I’m talking about, this is a day when we highlight one of our favorite sections of the:

 2016 MPMK Gift Guides

Why?

Because I realize that our MEGA gift guides are a lot to take in- detailed descriptions and age recommendations of over 400 toys, books, games, and more divided into 15 themed guides takes some concentration to get through.

I’ve heard from several moms in fact, both via email and in real life, who have already spent a good hour or two immersed in them.

So this year, I’m trying to help you navigate the guides by highlighting some of my favorite parts.

Over the next few months, I’ll be stopping in every once in a while to showcase a favorite section from one of the 15 guides. (Note this is not even a full guide, but simply a sub-section of one of the guides.)

My hope is that it will help you find the perfect gift for under the tree! Today we’re talking Best Games for Toddlers & Pre-Readers– a subsection of our Best Kid Games for Family Night, Siblings, and Playing Alone gift guide.

Having a regular family game night is a great tradition to strengthen the family unit. Not only does it ensure time for connecting with each other, it also gets your kids in the habit of communicating with you – something that will pay-off big time when they’re older. Plus, with the right game, it can be really fun!

When it comes to kids who can’t read yet, and toddlers in particular, however, that perfect game can be elusive. But don’t let that stop you from starting this important tradition early!

Here’s our curated list of the highest rated and most-loved games for the littlest members of your crew…

Especially for Toddlers & Pre-Readers

Thinkfun Roll and Play Board Game $19.17 (18 months – 3 years)

This is the first board game made specifically with young toddlers in mind. Toss the big plush cube and identify which colored side faces up. Choose a matching color card and perform the simple activity shown, such as “Make a happy face”, “Moo like a cow” or “Find something blue”. Designed for parent and child to play together, Roll & Play strengthens bonds and builds confidence while encouraging creativity, active play and gross motor skills. This seems like a great option if you have a preschooler who wants to play a family game with his or her younger sibling too. For another great young-toddler-friendly game, checkout Thinkfun’s Hello Sunshine Game $15.20 (18 months – 3 years) as well!

Eboo Preschool Lotto Game $12.34 (2 – 6 years)

I’m a big fan of the eBoo brand as a whole.  This award-winning lottery game is easy for little ones to pick up on and has the gorgeous illustrations that the company is known for, a great first game.

Eeboo Color Go Fish Playing Cards $7.95 (2+ years)

An award-winning game that centers around visual perception and speed. Our nanny gifted this game to my kids (then 4 and 6) because her kids (9 and 7) really loved it. The goal is to be the first to identify a match on a pair of cards and to call out out the name of the figure in common.  This is the type of game that quickly becomes addictive and will cause lots of laughs and (hopefully) friendly competition. Also check out the newer Disney Frozen – Alphabet and Disney Planes – Alphabet versions.

Richard Scary Busy Town $19.99 (3 – 8 years)

I have heard great things about this cooperative, non-competitive game from multiple sources but was really convinced when a mom of one of my son’s good friends was raving about it. Everything about this game is impressive, from the 6 foot long game board, to the amount of imagination and teamwork required. In fact, the company behind this game, Wonder Forge who also produces another of our favorites, Cat in the Hat, I Can Do That!, has won over 120 prestigious awards by creating good-for-you games that encourage teamwork, healthy competition, and get-up-and-go active play. This is the perfect game for children of multiple ages to play together and for when you hit that stage when kids pout a lot about losing or start to become ultra competitive.

Dr Seuss Super Stretchy ABCs $16.98 (3 – 6 years)

The Dr. Seuss games have a knack for helping restless kids work their wiggles out.  We have Cat in the Hat, I Can Do That! and love it for this purpose.  This twister-like game is on our list because it encourages both physical activity and letter recognition – perfect for preschoolers!

Educational Insights The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game $16.62 (3 – 7 years)

Friends of ours have this game and my kids have enjoyed playing with it during play dates. Along with the lovely look of the game, I like that it covers a wide range of skills by teaching matching, sorting, and strategic thinking while developing hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. It gets tons of great reviews on Amazon too.

Hoot Owl Hoot Cooperative Board Game $15.99 (3+ years)

I haven’t played this super popular game but I’ve heard it’s a great introduction to board games for your little one.  I especially like that the focus is to work together to accomplish a goal instead of competing.

Spot It! Junior AnimalsSpot It! AlphabetSpot it! Numbers and GamesSpot it! Basic English (to help with beginning reading comprehension) starting at $9.27 (4+ years) and the all-inclusive Spot It! Educational Set (3+ years) that contains all 4 of these for $44.85

An award-winning game that centers around visual perception and speed.  The goal is to be the first to identify a match on a pair of cards and to call out out the name of the figure in common.Teachers saw the learning potential in the huge popularity of this game and started to request educational versions. These are the result – I think we’ll be getting the whole Educational Set for the kids this year.

Zingo $17.99 (4 – 8 years)

This is another super popular game with families with young children and it was another of our family’s first games. A lot like BINGO, players get picture cards and try to fill them up.  There is a speed component too that we use about half the time with our 5 year old and skip with our 3 year old. We have both the standard version and the numbers/math version and both are regularly requested by the kids. Side Note: When your pre-readers become emerging readers, Zingo Word Builder, What’s Gnu? and Zingo Sight Words are also excellent!!

Hot Potato Electronic Musical Passing Game $13.98 (4+ years)

This fun take on the classic hot potato game keeps the element of surprise that kids love while adding in a cute mascot and music. I love that it encourages kids to get active while stuck inside, is simple for everyone to get in on the fun, and can be played for as long (or as short) as you want. The potato can also be used as a timer for all sorts of made up games and this is a great activity for large play dates or kid parties.

Tenzi Dice Game $13.95 (4+ years) and 77 Ways to Play game extender cards

In it’s simpliest form, Tenzi is basically Yahtzee on steroids… a fast-pace game to see who can get all 10 of their dice to show the same number first. Since there’s no counting or math required, this is a game kids of all ages can get it on. But the true genius of Tenzi is revealed when you check out the 77 ways to play cards. With so many fun variations on this simple dice game, the whole family will come back to it again and again. Side Note: If you plan to play with more than 4 players, check out the party pack version (77 ways to play included).

MPMK Toy Gift Guides: Best Kid Games for family night, best games for siblings, and best kid games to play alone. This is an amazing resource full of so many great detailed suggestions with age recommendations. LOVE!!

Check out the rest of Best Kid Games for Family Night, Siblings, and Playing Alone (and share it with your mom friends- they’ll thank you!)

*Post contains affiliate links.

Don’t forget – you can also check out all 15 of our 2016 Gift Guides here!

Image Credit: © Donnie Ray Jones | Elsa’s Getting Mad | CC by 2.0

It’s a startling thing to see this whole parenting thing – specifically, your whole parenting thing – from the perspective of the kids you’re parenting. Kids are sponges, I know, but it turns out, their innate talent for picking up on your curse word slip (whoops) is the least of it.

Our oldest son is eight, and our oldest daughter is six. And we are dealing with all kinds of attitude these days. I’m hip to the testing boundaries thing (haha, not really. Can you believe it starts so young?), but I wasn’t expecting this.

Turns out, it’s incredibly patronizing when someone slows down his speech and articulates every word, eyes wide and head nodding along. I was pretty much speechless the first time my son threw that my way, obnoxiously explaining that actually, mom, he’d already checked his backpack and his homework folder was still missing.

The difference, obviously, between me explaining things slowly and clearly and him using the same speech pattern and body language, is timing.

When I do it – when I close my eyes and breathe, and then carefully remind someone for the bazillionth time that his homework folder is on the kitchen table RIGHT WHERE HE LEFT IT – I’m trying to keep my *@!& together.

When he does it, it’s freaking rude. And disrespectful.

Except. Read More

Image Credit: © Johan Larsson | 12.18.11 | CC by 2.0

Like a lot of parents, I wrestle a bit with how much screen time I allow my kids– whether it be in the form of TV, on their recently acquired Kids’ Edition Kindle Fires, or on my phone.

The latter is definitely where they get the least amount of time. I’ve just never been the mom that hands my phone over to my child in the car, at the grocery store, etc… Partly because I’m scared to go down that rabbit hole, but mainly because I’m really scared of what will become of my expensive phone.

There are, however, a few apps that I use on my phone with my kids nearly every single day.

In fact, they’re so beloved by our family that we start our day with one and end our day with another, almost without fail.

Here’s what makes them so great…

#1 Scholastic Parent & Child’s KidQ

About the App

Scholastic Parent & Child believes that one of the best ways to connect with your child is through conversation.

The KidQ app for iPhone and Android facilitates conversation via fun Q&A’s about the things that kids (and parents!) are the most curious about, like Why do we get goosebumps? and How do the bubbles get in soda?

Each day, users receive a playful question that serves as a conversation starter along with the official answer. Families will have a blast as they compare their explanations to the facts!

How We Use It

Every day we have a 3 – 5 minute wait in the school drop off line and it’s become our ritual to go through one or two of the “Questions of the Day” before my 1st grader hops out of the car and heads off to school.

I just pull up the app, push the big yellow “Question of the Day” button and read it out loud. (Today’s question was “What color is a polar bear’s skin?” ) The kids take turns hypothesizing, we discuss it for a quick minute, and then pull up the answer, which contains several extra bonus facts about the subject.

It’s a super easy way to connect with C in a positive way right before he leaves me for the day. Plus, I love the opportunity to help my kids think critically and to praise them for being creative and thoughtful.

#2 Sparkle Stories

About the App

So this one isn’t technically an app… yet. Read More

It’s time for another “MPMK Gift Guide Glimpse”… For those of you not exactly sure what I’m talking about, this is a day when we highlight one of our favorite sections of the:

 2016 MPMK Gift Guides

Why?

Because I realize that our MEGA gift guides are a lot to take in- detailed descriptions and age recommendations of over 400 toys, books, games, and more divided into 15 themed guides takes some concentration to get through.

I’ve heard from several moms in fact, both via email and in real life, who have already spent a good hour or two immersed in them.

So this year, I’m trying to help you navigate the guides by highlighting some of my favorite parts.

Over the next few months, I’ll be stopping in every once in a while to showcase a favorite section from one of the 15 guides. (Note this is not even a full guide, but simply a sub-section of one of the guides.)

My hope is that it will help you find the perfect gift for under the tree! Today we’re talking yoga toys– a subsection of our “Best Toys for Staying Active Indoors & Out” gift guide.

Kid yoga seems to be the trend these days and, I must admit, I’ve completely hopped on board.  By the time S was 2, “namaste” was a regular part of her vernacular.

Now before you go thinking I’ve gotten all hippy-dippy on you, just know that I’m a girl who likes to make decisions based on research – and this is no exception.  There’s actually been quite a few studies that have delved into the benefits of getting kids started in yoga early.  This Wall Street Journal article, for example, cites the following findings:

yoga improved students’ behavior, physical health and academic performance, as well as attitudes toward themselves.

yoga reduces feelings of helplessness and aggression, and in the long term helps emotional balance. The benefits of yoga are particularly strong among children with special needs

As amazing as yoga is for our littles, sometimes it can be tough to get them to focus long enough to actually do it! So today I thought I’d share with you some of our family’s favorite yoga tools- games, books, cards, etc.

All of which make for Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers you can feel really good about gifting this year.

Again, this is only one small section of the Best Toys for Staying Active Indoors & Out Guide. You’ll definitely want to check out the whole thing for more awesome finds, including many of the top 10 from all 400+ of our picks this year.

Don’t forget – you can also check out all 15 of our 2016 Gift Guides here!

Ready? Here we go…

Best Yoga Games & Books for Kids

The ABCs Yoga for Kids series (2 – 14 years)

I’ve seen this one recommended several places. I’m extremely tempted by the lovely illustrations. Along with the original book $16.04, there’s also a coloring book $5.36, a learning card set $17.95, a poster $15.82, and even a spanish version $8.06 now available.

Yoga Pretzels $13.49 (2 – 14 years)

This is a beautifully illustrated card set that can be used a myriad of ways. I like how there’s a story element to go along with each of the poses too.  The set got such great reviews on Amazon that we bought them for the kids last year and we’ve pulled them out quite often this year when a case of “bouncing-off-the-walls-itis” hits. One of our favorite things to do with the cards is to lay them on the ground in a circle and walk around them with music playing. When the music stops, each child attempts the pose they’ve landed on. There are partner and individual poses on the cards to make it even more interesting.

Good Night Yoga: A Pose by Pose Bedtime Story $12.47 (2 – 7 years)

It’s definitely worth mentioning that along with the all the other wonderful benefits of kids’ yoga, it’s also fantastic for getting them to settle down before bed! This beautifully illustrated book is perfect for that purpose. From the publisher: This bedtime story is so much more than a story. It’s a practice for kids and parents to end the day in a calming, mindful way. Turn the page and stretch like a tree, settle softly like a ladybug, float like a cloud, and you’ll be dreaming soon… And for the youngest yogi in your house, be sure to also check out Sleepy Little Yoga: A Toddler’s Sleep Book of Yoga.

Yoga Games for Children: Fun and Fitness with Postures, Movements and Breath (SmartFun Activity Books) 

The stellar reviews for this book really do say it best. One of my favorites: “I work with children. I am a paraprofessional in a special needs school, and was very excited to read this book… One of the things that I noticed right away is how many of the games and exercises were done in groups or pairs. This is fantastic in my opinion! It seems to me that these days kids are more isolated than in the past. So, I was very pleased to find that there were things that there were games where the kids held hands or leaned back against each other. I believe this helps to build co-operation and understanding. There are also plenty of games where it is individuals alone. My favorite is Sun Salutations! It incorporates many basic yoga positions, and it will be a lot of fun for the kids… The relaxation exercises are ideal as well. Sometimes kids, as well as adults, need to just let it go and breathe. This book gives several examples of how to do this”

Side Note: I also wanted to mention that our beloved High Five magazine also often has a feature in the back that, while not yoga per-say, reminds me a lot of the kid yoga stuff I’ve seen in that it incorporates imaginary play with different poses and movement.  S and C are big fans.

MPMK Toy Gift Guide: Best Active toys for indoors and best outdoor toys. All kinds of great picks to keep the kids moving and love, love the age recommendations and great descriptions of each pick!

Check out the rest of Best Toys for Staying Active Indoors & Out (and share it with your mom friends- they’ll thank you!)

*Post contains affiliate links.

Don’t forget – you can also check out all 15 of our 2016 Gift Guides here!

I’ve written a lot about the importance of family traditions, big and small. But one thing I sometimes forget is how many mini traditions we’ve built around the changing of each season.

It’s often not until the leaves start turning colors and there’s a chill in the air that I remember how much the kids love it when I have a hot pot of apple cider simmering on the stove, or reading In November together under a big soft blanket.

Today our contributor Alli is here sharing some of her favorite play activities for fall.

These are great ways to avoid the dreaded chorus of, “Mom, I’m Bored” that can come with bad weather. And, good news, most are super simple to set up… If you’re looking for Thanksgiving related ideas, be sure to also check out 20 Things to Do with the Kids Before Thanksgiving’s Over.

Here’s Alli with one very special apple-picking game of her own and 25 more crafts from around the web…

It’s fall! My absolute favorite season. So, of course, I had to make it into a Play Theme Cheat Sheet. And really – cool weather, gorgeous leaves, pumpkins galore – what’s not to love?

I have always wanted to take my little family apple picking in the fall. (I’ve never actually been. Sad, right?) But since apple farms are few and far between where I live, I decided to bring apple picking to us–with a little educational value built in.

We’ve been working on our numbers at home, so I thought why not make a number apple picking game?

I went straight to the craft store to pick up a few sheets of felt. I chose gray for my tree and red for the apples. Then I chose a few scrap fabric pieces for the stems and the leaves. I also picked up a bottle of black fabric paint.

Then, after the kids went to bed, I started cutting. I used a cookie cutter to trace the shape of my apples. Then, I attached the stems and leaves with a dot of Fabri-tac (a simple stitch would do just as well.)

The last step was to add my numbers with the fabric paint (0-9).

applepicking3

I let them dry overnight and in the morning it was time to play!

We played three ways: Read More