You may have read my last column, ‘Help! My kid has too many toys’. (If not, here it is.) You may be wondering what the hell else you’re supposed to get your friends’ and family members’ kiddies this Christmas, if they’re already at Max Toy Capacity.
If you’re not a maker/upcycler and you’re not into toy-swapping, here are 11 ideas:
Google ‘salt dough’ and you’ll get 4.9 million results. Used to create crafts, sculptures and ornaments, it’s super-easy and ultra-cheap to make at home, requires basic ingredients, is paintable and can be fired in a domestic oven or air-dried. Got salt, flour and water? You’re sorted. Recipe here. Salt dough is great for kids aged 3+.
Floam is like slime with polystyrene beads in it and kids can mold it into shapes. They can sculpt with it or use it to coat other objects. They can store it to reuse it or allow it to dry, for permanent creations. I love the stuff, which comes in an awesome range of colours, doesn’t seem to stain anything, is pretty cheap in most SA toy stores and is easy-ish to make yourself. It’s most suitable for ages 3 and up.
My daughter loves these and uses them to ‘decorate’ the bath, the tiles and sometimes our faces and bodies. The best part? They wipe off surfaces incredibly easily and don’t stain the kid. Ours came from Woolies, but you can find the Crayola and Munchkin ones at most toy stores. While they’re affordable at about R150 per pack, there are recipes online for making your own. Ideal for toddlers and littlies.
This film is an oldie, but such a goodie. To be honest, although it was one of my own tweenage faves, I was surprised by how much my three-year-old and our resident 10-year-old enjoyed it. The songs are catchy, the characters are fun and an 18-year-old Christian Bale is the lead, should you need the eye candy. It’s rated PG.
Pigeon and Pals
My in-laws are in their 60s, my husband and I are in our 30s and my daughter is 3. We’re all besotted with Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Pals DVDs. They’re silly, funny, heavily ironic and gorgeously animated – plus they’re narrated by creator Mo. Pigeon and Pals retails online for R200 for the Complete Cartoon Collection Vol. 1 & 2.
One of my personal bests, this little story by Dr Seuss is about a society of haves and have-nots, in which access to life’s goodies is determined by whether or not you have a star on your belly. For me, it’s a clever commentary on racial, gender and other social categories that are socially constructed, and my pre-schooler loves it. A great conversation-starter, The Sneetches is also fantastic for older kids.
Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (of The Gruffalo) just rock my socks. For one thing, their rhyming irreverence make the stories fun for adults to read. For another, the illustrations are magnificent. And for a third, kids never outgrow these books.
Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book is about a boy, Charlie, who is reading a book about a pirate captain, who is reading a book about Goldilocks, who is reading about a knight, who is reading about a frog … and so on, until the story comes full circle via burglars, aliens, a friendly ghost and kings and queens with a giant birthday cake.
The name of this book appealed to me, because it sounds like a Yiddish dessert. In the world of Mrs Noodlekugel, cats converse and bake cookies, short-sighted mice join the party and two children in search of adventure are drawn by the smell of gingerbread and the promise of magical surprises. Sparsely illustrated, it’s ideal for kids aged 4+ and as a practice reader for new-ish primary school readers.
This is the pricey category. For spoilies. But each of these toys is ama-ZING! They’re available at leading toy stores; recommended retail prices range from R900-R1299.
First, Xeno, who I’ve reviewed before. He’s squishy and squashy to touch, with eyes that light up; multiple facial expressions, gestures and sounds; a ‘language’; the ability to play games; an app; and a gross drop of green snot, that you can tug on.
Complete with sneezes, tummy aches, burps, farts, crying, and the chronic need for love and tickles, Xeno needs your kiddies to learn to understand what he’s saying so that they can care for him. Think Tamagotchi 10.0. Ideal for kids aged 4-10.
Remember the Furby? This is the Furby Boom, which looks like an owl and comes in a range of bright patterns (ours is zebra-striped). He/she/it can respond to music, motion and your voice, plus there’s an app that lets your Furby take a shower, go to the loo and choose what to eat. Your Furby can also interact with other Furbys.
And then, oh then … Furby has a number of different traits and, depending on how you treat it, will develop its character over time. Ours appears to have the personality of a drunken sailor, without the swearing. I’d recommend him/her/it for kids aged 7+, who have a sense of humour and lots of patience. You’ll love him too. Promise.
My Friend Cayla
This is a super-cool toy. Think of an extremely high-quality doll, about 45cm high, with brushable hair, nice clothes and Wikipedia inside her. And that’s Cayla.
Completely interactive and powered by Bluetooth, Cayla can answer questions, understand and chat, tell stories and play games. She doesn’t just speak pre-set words and sentences – she can also listen. So if you ask, ‘What’s an elephant?’ and she’s online (via your smart device), she’ll look it up and tell you.
(Note: Cayla needs to be quite close to your device and you can’t use it for anything else at the time. You also need a wifi connection while playing with her. But she’s completely safe for kids aged 4 and up, with all sorts of built-in firewalls, and she will charmingly resist any attempt to get her to talk porn, sex or bad stuff.)