Saturday, December 8, 2012

Our Family's Favorite Gifts....

I am much later in getting this written than I intended to be.... good grief, most people have their Christmas shopping done already... but better late than never, right? Over the years and especially as we have added more arrows into our quiver, it seems like choosing gifts becomes harder. Why? Because we don't necessarily need anything (especially more toys). And the things we want we probably already have. But we have discovered different items over the years that are durable, maintain the kids' interest over time, are educational, and are just plain fun! Here are some of our family's favorites....

MAGNATILES - We LOVE these toys! They come in solid or translucent colors and in packs of 32, 48, or 100. They are great for kids of any age and the sky is the limit on what you can build with them. We have 2 sets of 100 tiles that our kids all play with. We prefer the translucent tiles that you can see through. The kids have built parking garages, castles, corrals, roads, boxes, etc....  After the structure is built, then the kids pull out their horses, cars, or whatever other toy they can come up with to play in the magna-tile building.  As I linked up to the product page on Amazon, I did notice that the price has really increased since we bought our last set 2 years ago. I did always tend to get a better price on ebay than on Amazon, so shop around. The last time I bought a set of 100, I gave 4 of my kids each 25 pieces to unwrap for Christmas... No, they didn't fight over whose piece was whose... and ultimately, they are all stored in the same box.... but they all did have their own gift to unwrap. These are very durable, they don't take up much room when they are stored, and even the little ones can build with them.

Balance Bikes - These are amazing! My mom bought my 2 and 4 year old each one of these for their birthdays (a 12 and 16inch size)... and seeing my 4 year old now riding a pedal bike without training wheels... I am sold on these things!  In the past, my kids have had training wheels and when they were 5ish, we took off the training wheels and many hours, tears, pushes, coaching, and frustrations later... they finally figured out how to ride. The balance bike eliminates most of that. The kids learn on their own how to balance and use their upper body to control the front half of the bike by just pushing themselves along with their feet.  Once my 4 year old was balancing for a few feet consistently (of course once he ran out of momentum he had to put his feet down) I switched him over to the "real" bike without training wheels, gave him a push, and off he went pedaling away! The first time! Woo Hoo!!!! Note that we live in the country, so the kids didn't have the luxury of pavement... and they worked just fine on dirt.

Qwirkle - We got this game a couple of years ago and we just love it. It consists of 6 colors of 6 different shapes and you form a "crossword puzzle" type of pattern by playing groups of colors and shapes. This is fun for the little kids as well as the older kids.

HISSS - We got this game for the little kids/toddlers last year. I wasn't sure what to expect but it really is fun! You draw cards which each have a part of a snake on them (head, body, or tail) and lay them out to make different snakes. It does a good job teaching color matching, counting, etc... It is super fun seeing the multicolored snakes you create. Even the older kids love playing this game with the itty-bitties...

Orchard - This is another game that is great for the little kids/ toddlers. It comes in a few different sizes, we got the mini version. Essentially you roll the dice and collect the fruit from the trees. The goal is to try to collect all of the fruit before the raven gets it. The players work together to beat the raven, rather than competing against each other. Again, this is even fun for my bigger kids.

Settlers of Catan - Last year was our first experience with European board games... and WOW! We love them.  This game has become my husband's favorite and each time it is different. Our 7 and 10 year old are even able to play (it is my 10 year old's favorite game too).  There is a bit of a learning curve, but once you have played a couple of times you will be hooked! The game has several expansion packs to add on to the original and also a 5 and 6 player add-on that increases the board size.  I will let you go to the link to read more about the game/strategy... but rest assured.... your family will love this game! It takes about 45 minutes or so to play.

Ticket to Ride - This is another European board game that we love! There are US and Europe versions. Essentially, you are building train routes across the US trying to get the most routes completed, the most points, and the longest track. This one is a bit simpler to learn than Catan... 5 and 6 year olds on up to adults are able to play this.  I had a game night last year with a couple of my friends and each of them loved it so much that they bought one for their families.  Again, you can't go wrong with this game. We have loved European games so much that we are trying out some new ones for Christmas this year...

Lauri Toys - This company has a variety of great toys for toddlers/preschoolers. They are "foam" and depending on which toy... they help teach, colors, shapes, fine motor skills, building, letters, creativity etc... We have the shape and color sorter, peg set, travel set, and lower case alphabet set. These are great for entertaining the little ones during school time.

Vision Forum 18" Dolls - Want an alternative to the "American Girl" doll? Then this is your doll! Yes, they are pricey (so are the American Girls), but they are very nice. Last year we bought our 5 and 6 year old girls each a doll. (We also bought them an outfit and book set...). They were told that they needed to take care of them. Here we are, a year later, and the girls play with them nearly every day, and both dolls still look like new. Unlike other dolls that have been at the bottom of the toybox for months, these dolls have maintained their "elite" status.  Not to mention that you support a Christian company by ordering them. If you watch, you can get great deals too, they frequently go on sale.

Bicycles - Here is our philosophy on bikes.... go to a bike store and get a good one... especially if you have multiple kids that will be growing into them.  We have Trek and Specialized (mostly Trek though because that is what our local store carries).  We have found by experience, that the walmart bikes have completely worn out by the time 2 kids have used them. Whereas the better quality ones perform better and last longer.  As our oldest child outgrows a bike.... he moves up a size and the rest of the bikes are passed down to the next-in-line.  (That being said, we did buy a Trek for our 6 year old this year. They have a 6 speed, 20 inch that is a perfect bike for learning to shift on. The grandparents and aunts all chipped in to be a part of this gift to help with the cost.)  You can also look for used Trek (et. al.) bikes. We bought one used from our neighbors and some specialty shops also sell used bikes and/or have trade in plans. Our local store takes Trek trade ins and gives you 40% of your original purchase price towards the purchase of a new Trek... This is a great deal!!!!!

Trampoline - We bought our trampoline when our oldest was only 2... sure, probably kind of early for that sort of thing... but 8 years and a bunch more kids later, the trampoline still stands and is still a favorite play thing. The kids jump on it, kick balls around on it, seek refuge from the dog on it, read books on it.... we love our trampoline!  We got the large size that is sold at Sam's, I have never regretted getting a big one.

Well, this is certainly not a comprehensive list... but these are some of our top picks! Other things we love are family experiences: zoo, Cosmosphere, museums, etc...  Happy shopping and enjoy the season. I don't know about you, but I am so thankful for online shopping and the convenience of getting my lists completed without having to fight the crowds!!!!

We pray that you all have a wonderful Christmas season and spend time increasing and abounding in your love for our Savior!!! We have a Savior who loves us, died for us, and atones for us... and that is the Good News! Merry CHRISTmas!

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