Lego Duplo Deluxe Train Set (10508)



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Review:

With 20 pieces of curved track, 5 pieces of straight track, a bridge, a working crane, and more, this was a great addition to our son’s first Duplo train set that substantially improved its play value (which was already more than enough to keep him happy for a couple hours a day). While his first set included just enough track to make a circle, this set allows him to build much larger and more diverse tracks, including much larger circles, ovals, figure eights, and more. It also has a different style engine, and different cars, including a coal car, which adds more variety to the train itself. He likes to give his Duplo zoo animals rides in the coal car.

My rating: (5 / 5)

Lego Duplo My First Train Set (10507)



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Review:

My siblings and I had a big bin of Lego Duplo train tracks when we were growing up and had a lot of fun with them, and they’re still one of my son’s favorite toys when he goes to visit his grandparents.

We decided to start his own collection with this set, which has a battery powered two car train and enough track to create a full circle. Although it doesn’t allow as much scope for creativity and engineering as some of the sets with more track, my son loves it and plays with it daily. He enjoys both setting up the circular track and just letting the train chug freestyle across the floor. Its engine can handle both hard floors and most carpeting, though more uneven surfaces cause it problems.

My rating: (4 / 5)

Lego Research Institute (21110)

Review:

lego research institute (21110)

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Lego has a super cool site called Lego Ideas where Lego fans can submit ideas for new sets. The community then votes on the ideas, and the most popular (and feasible) ideas are made into commercial Lego sets, with the original creator receiving a share of the profits.

I’m an occasional voter on the site and one of the ideas that I absolutely loved was a female Lego fan’s proposal to create a set featuring female scientists. It was recently released as Lego Ideas Research Institute (21110)!

Outside of the insanely popular Lego Friends theme (which uses a different style of minifig), women and girls are under-represented in most of Lego’s themes. My daughter has complained about the lack of female minifigs in Lego Castle (her favorite theme, aside from Friends), so this set is great just to get some more female hair and faces that can be mixed and matched with the Castle sets. However, I also love the Research Institute set itself, especially the dinosaur!

You can order the set at Lego.com.

My rating: (4 / 5)

 

Work Bench ‘N Box



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Review:

Any time I get out the screwdriver to work on something, my two and a half year old son is sure to be close behind, begging to have a turn. Sometimes he’ll even open the closet and ask me to get it down for him. Since a real screwdriver isn’t a safe toy for a toddler to play with unsupervised, I decided to get him a little toy toolbox of his own so he could play with screwdrivers whenever he wanted.

This proved somewhat easier said than done. Most of the initial toy tool sets I researched were plastic and didn’t sound well made. Then I looked into the Melissa & Doug Take-Along Tool Kit Wooden Toy, Pretend Play, Sturdy Wooden Construction, Promotes Multiple Development Skills, 9.9" H x 5.5" W x 4.8" L, which seemed much closer to what I had in mind. Melissa & Doug are generally reliable purveyors of high quality toys, and the price was very attractive. However, I was put off the set by the reviews complaining that there were no threaded holes for the screws. What’s the point of a toy screwdriver if it can’t screw anything in? So I went looking for better options.

Finally, I found it with the Work Bench ‘N Box set by Wonderworld. The Work Bench ‘N Box has a hammer, wrench, and screwdriver, nails, screws with washers, and more, as well as a sturdy tool box to carry the set in that also doubles as the work bench. The bench includes a variety of holes on the top and sides, including both threaded and non-threaded. Everything is made of eco-friendly sustainable rubber wood except the two nails and the head of the wrench, which are plastic.

The toy was an instant hit with my son, who immediately started banging away with the hammer. He had a little more trouble with the wrench and screwdriver, but the toy should be excellent to help him develop his fine motor skills. It has held up well to the banging so far and seems like a very sturdy and well made toy. My only complaint is that the nails are a bit difficult to remove, so I will have to do that for him, but otherwise I am very pleased with the purchase so far, and so is he!

Note: Wonderworld makes a similar toy toolbox called the Wonderworld Little Tool Box Set Best Learning Toys Improved Skills Kids Toy that also appears to be an excellent choice and which has a saw with a velcro block that children can “saw” apart in addition to the hammer, screwdriver, and wrench. Although I’m pretty sure my son would love the saw, I thought the other tools in the set looked more juvenile than the tools that came with the Work Bench ‘N Box and I wanted something that my son would get several more years of enjoyment out of, plus there were fewer holes for the nails and screws, so I decided to go with the Work Bench ‘N Box.

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My rating: (4 / 5)

The Paper Bag Princess Book Review



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Review:

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch, was originally published in 1980 and was one of the first children’s books to feature a princess who did more than sit around and wait to be rescued. More than 30 years later, it’s still one of the best.

Its heroine, Princess Elizabeth, starts out as a Princess Classic who loves pretty dresses and is looking forward to marrying a prince named Ronald. Then a dragon demolishes her castle (burning up all her clothes) and kidnaps Ronald. Elizabeth dresses herself in a paper bag that somehow survived the fire and sets off in pursuit of the dragon. She rescues Ronald, but when he turns out to be a snobby, ungrateful jerk, she dumps him and skips off merrily into the sunset by herself.

I like The Paper Bag Princess because the message about valuing yourself despite what other people might say (even other people you thought you loved) comes through loud and clear without being preachy. It’s a fun and entertaining story, not just a lesson plan from Personal Empowerment 101.

Another thing that makes The Paper Bag Princess one of the best princess books for young readers is that Elizabeth ends up defeating the dragon using brains, not brawn. I like this because it’s more realistic for a girl who started the story as a completely stereotypical princess than having her turn out to be some secret swordfighting whiz. Even better, it teaches the valuable lessons that brains can defeat brawn and that there’s more than one way to be smart and brave… and girlie girls can do it, too!

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My rating: (4.5 / 5)

4M Crystal Mining Kit



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Review:

An enjoyable one time project for budding young geologists or rock collectors. We had a fun few hours (spread out over several days)  excavating the crystals, which are pretty, colorful, and decent-sized. My daughter now keeps them in the included leather pouch and considers them her “treasures.”

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

Elenco Electronic Snap Circuits SC-300

Review:



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This was a Christmas gift for my 7 year old daughter from my brother-in-law, a physicist. It was one of his favorite toys growing up and according to his mother, he got quite creative with it!

So far, we have mainly followed the included directions (though with occasional “what would happen if we put this here instead?” experimentation) and have found almost all of them clear and straightforward enough for her to follow on her own without adult assistance. Replacing wires with snaps was a brilliant idea- the snaps make the process of building and dismantling circuits extremely simple and easy, which helps reduce frustration (especially for young beginners like my daughter) without dumbing down the circuits themselves. (Some should be plenty sophisticated enough to keep a high schooler’s interest.) So far, her favorite of the 300 different circuits included in the instructions is one that launches a plastic fan into the air like a flying saucer, and mine is the AM radio (yes, it really works!)

I highly recommend this kit for children who enjoy building projects or have an interest in science.

My rating: (4 / 5)

LEGO Ninjago Epic Dragon Battle (9450)

Review:

We liked the Golden Dragon so much we’re thinking about getting this set for the Ultra Dragon as well. It looks even more impressive!

LEGO Ninjago The Golden Dragon (70503)



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Review:

I was lucky enough to find this set for half price at Goodwill, took a chance, and bought it. It turned out to be complete except for the Golden Ninja and good as new!

The downside of the set is that it doesn’t have particularly versatile bricks – I’m sure Lego masters have come up with some creative alternate builds, but for most of us, it will pretty much be for making a dragon, and that’s about it. However, the dragon is impressive looking, so it’s a handsome display piece (and fun to pose!), as well as a useful addition to my daughter’s various classic and modern Lego Castle sets. (This is the only Ninjago set we own.)

My rating: (4 / 5)

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LEGO Friends Adventure Camper (3184)



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Review:

My favorite of the smaller Lego Friends sets we own. It’s a little more challenging to build than, for example, the Heartlake Dog Show, and it has excellent play value.

We go camping regularly (though in a tent rather than a camper) so my daughter found it very relatable and loved sending the friends off on adventures. The design of the camper itself is compact yet versatile, just like a real camper, and there’s a nice mix of accessories, such as a table and grill for cookouts, a pair of bikes for touring, and a surfboard for beach camp outs.

Update: This camper set has now been discontinued and is priced as a collectible, not as a children’s toy. Luckily, there’s a very reasonably priced Lego City camper that gets great reviews and reportedly fits the Lego Friends minifigs. The Lego Friends theme also now offers a similar set called Summer Caravan (41034).

My rating: (4 / 5)