Dora and Diego—Let’s Explore at Liberty Science Center + giveaway

 Just before all the holiday chaos started, we were invited to explore the Dora and Diego exhibit at Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ.

 

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There’s so much we love about LSC, but the educational and interactive exhibits rank pretty high up on our list.

At our most recent trip to LSC we had the chance to explore the Dora and Diego—Let’s Explore! exhibit. If there was ever an exhibit that adequately examines the curious nature of toddlers and preschoolers, Dora and Diego—Let’s Explore is it.  The exhibit features Nickelodeon favorites, Dora and Diego, along with their buddies, Boots, Map, Backpack, Isa, Tico and Swiper.

This exhibit was created by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in partnership with Nickelodeon and will be at LSC until January 24th.


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Like the popular Nickelodeon shows from which this exhibit is based, Dora and Diego—Let’s Explore is an exhibit that encourages adventure, curiosity and how to solve problems while engaging Spanish speaking skills for preschoolers.

Highlights from the exhibit include:

The Purple Planet – Kids can climb inside and slide down on the surface of the whimsical Purple Planet

 

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Rocket Ship – Dora and friends need a ride to the Purple Planet. At the Rocket Ship, kids can suit up, pilot the ship and play memory with planets. 

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Constellations – Kids can learn about stars and identify the patterns made out of stars by inserting star shapes to light-up a constellation

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Isa’s Flowery Garden – At the Flowery Garden, Dora’s friend Isa the Iguana helps kids learn the beauty of flowers, plants, and animals. At Isa’s Garden, kids can pick flowers, interact with bird, butterflie, and insect puppets

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 Tico’s Tree and Car – Tico the squirrel needs help picking nuts from the tree for a family picnic. Kids can play along with Swiper to swipe the nuts and watch as they shoot up and over to fill Tico’s basket. Kids can help Tico fill up his car with nuts so he can begin his journey.

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 Pirate Ship – In the Pirate Ship, kids can band together with Pirate Piggies crew and dress like a pirate and sail the ship and share the treasure treasure. 

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Animal Rescue Center – Kids get a hands-on opportunity to care and help (stuffed) rainforest animals in Diego’s Animal Rescue Center. Kids can be an animal rescuer like Diego, as well as diagnose and help treat critters with the Scanner bed, First-Aid Station and fluff their fur at the Care Station. 

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Rainforest Maze – At the rainforest, kids can locate rainforest animals and swing across the Bobo Brothers’ monkey bars, crawl through a fallen tree, climb across Jaguar Mountain, and jump or hop across the River Rocks.

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Though the exhibit is geared to the younger set, both my preschooler and grade schooler enjoyed Dora and Diego—Let’s Explore. The many interactive features, games and activities kept my kids engaged for well over an hour and a half.

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 At the Rocket Ship, both kids loved role-playing and pretending to blast off. Tico’s Tree and Car was a fun activity for both kids, especially my preschooler who was excited to pick nuts and fuel up himself. At the Rainforest Maze, my 8 year old enjoyed climbing and helping his little brother jump and swing around. The Animal Rescue Center was another favorite for my boys, where they were able to partner up and play vet together. I loved listening to my older son read the little signs and share interesting information throughout this super fun experience.

 

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Dora and Diego—Let’s Explore is a fantastic interactive exhibit that’s ideal for toddlers and preschoolers, but engaging for the entire family. LSC has been one of my family’s absolute favorite museums in NJ since my older son was an infant. There’s always something for everyone in the family to enjoy. It does get crowded on the weekends and at peak times, but it’s always a lot of fun. And as winter limits family activities, what better way to spend a cold day with family than exploring at LSC.

 

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With that in mind, in conjunction with What’s Down in Town, we’re giving away a family 4-pack of tickets to the Liberty Science Center that includes admission to Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition gallery. This giveaway will end on Friday to give you a chance to enjoy LSC over the long weekend! Please enter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

In order to facilitate this review, we received complimentary admission to LSC. Promotional tickets were provided for giveaway. As always, all opinions are my own.

 

 

Top Toys of 2015

From Toy Fair in February to recent holiday media events, I’ve been scouting toys and trends all year for The Next Kid Thing. I have several lists in the works, but before the biggest shopping day of the year kicks off, I wanted to share some of the coolest toys that I think might be the big sellers this season.

I put this list together based on the play value, my kids’ reaction, price point as well as accessibility. I’ve been checking out the toys’ popularity online and in person and have compiled, what I think, might be some of the hottest sellers this season. Some obvious picks did not make my list because the supply is more accessible or the price is out of reach for many people.

Keep an eye out for more of our picks. Until then, I present The Next Kid Thing Top Toys for 2015.

 

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1. Sit-to-Stand Ultimate Alphabet Train

 This is the latest version of Vtech’s popular Alphabet Train. The multi-phase toy is intuitive and is perfect for tots who are sitting, toddling or already on the go. I love that this toy grows with kids and offers so many different types of educational play and function. On sale, I’ve spotted this great toy in the $40 range.

 

2. Bright Beats Dance and Move Beatbo

Beatbo first caught my eye at Toy Fair because of its bright and simple aesthetic. Beatbo dances, sings and has engaging educational games, perfect for curious toddlers. Beatbo can be found at major retailers for $35.

 

3. Paw Patrol Interactive Mission Chase

 Chase has all kinds of features, making him quite the hot commodity. Chase is bigger in size and has cool details for making missions easier. Paw Patrol toys, in general, are popular, so make sure to pick up Chase before he becomes hard to find later in the season. This Chase is #1 on my little guy’s list.

 

4. Paw Patrol Patroller

This Paw Patroller vehicle holds 3 vehicles when closed and several more when opened, making it an ideal gift for Paw Patrol mega-fans. This cool vehicle has multiple functions and landed on several top toys’ lists, and will certainly be another popular toy this season. Head’s up: Target currently has a 20% off Promo on toys. Head to their site to take advantage of this deal.

 

5. Shopkins

Just like it’s been all year, expect anything Shopkins to be super popular this holiday season. Right now, playsets and blind bags are in stock, but expect anything Shopkins to be a must-have for kids who appreciate these super cute collectibles. I love this Ice Cream Truck!

 

6. Clever Keet

Little Live Pets have been a favorite for animal lovers, and Clever Keet is no exception. This clever guy can chat and respond to your voice. He dances and even rides his little cart. 

7. American Girl Grace Thomas

The 2015 Girl of the Year Grace Thomas encourages savvy kids to pursue big ideas and embrace the business world. Available for only one year, the Grace collection includes an18-inch Grace doll featuring long dark-brown hair and blue eyes, plus several French-inspired outfits, accessories, and toys that reflect her interests, such as the premium French Bakery Set with more than 60 pieces.

8. Girl Scouts Cookie Oven

The very cool Girl Scouts Cookie Oven is making quite the buzz this holiday season. With this fantastic toy, kids can bake their favorite Girl Scout cookie flavors at home while learning how to bake. 

9. Interactive R2-D2

With the upcoming release of the latest installment of Star Wars: the Force Awakens, it’s no surprise that Star Wars toys will be among the hottest toys this season. One toy that made our list of hot toys is Thinkways’ Interactive R2-D2. He projects images, turns his head while he talks, is voice-activated, among other cool features. With over 1000 programmable action combos, this smart toy will be a favorite for kids and adults alike.

10. BB-8 Sphero

BB-8 Sphero has been a hot Star Wars item since Force Friday earlier this year. This interactive droid is app-enabled and has voice-recognition, and has been dubbed the coolest Star Wars Toy by various outlets. Another toy that’s expected to be a popular multi-generational gift, this guy might be hard to find later in the season.

11. Lego Dimensions

Lego Dimensions joins the market as the latest toy to life video game. But this time, this video game has the clout of its beloved Lego franchise and characters to back up its foray onto consoles. From fun characters from the Lego Movie to classic superhero and cartoon figures, Lego Dimensions is already popular for kids and families. Since spotting it at the Kidz Vuz Back to School party, this game is #1 on my older guy’s list!
Head’s up: Lego Dimensions is featured on Target’s Cartwheel for 35% off for two more days, which makes it around $65. Combine this with an additional 5% off if you have Target RedCard. To compare: Toys R’ Us has Lego Dimensions on sale for $64.99 on Black Friday at 7am. 

12. LeapFrog LeapPad Platinum

LeapFrog’s latest LeapPad Platinum has some of the coolest features yet. It features a faster processor and crisp screen. In addition to the popular LeapFrog games and easy-to-navigate interface, the LeapPad Platinum features the unique and cutting-edge ImagiCard technology. My preschooler is obsessed with ImagiCard and I appreciate how reinforces counting, colors, alphabet, as well as tactile manipulation.

As of today, all of these toys are available in stores and online. Be sure to take advantage of pre-Black Friday sales and coupons which are proving to be cheaper than schlepping out to stores in the wee hours later this week.

Stay tuned for more gift ideas with all of my NKT Holiday Gift Guides!

 

 

PBS Kids: A Creature Christmas and Nature Cat to Debut

As we’re getting ready to feast on turkey, our friends over on PBS Kids are getting us into the holiday spirit with some great Christmas content featuring the Wild Kratts.

On November 25th, PBS is premiering “A Creature Christmas,” which is the first hour-long holiday Wild Kratts special. In this fun special, the Kratts take a break from their fearless questing for creatures to celebrate Christmas. But when they receive an alert that their favorite critters are disappearing around the globe, their holiday celebration quickly turns into a rescue mission. Wild Kratts: A Creature Christmas premieres November 25 with encore presentations on November 26, 27, 28 and 29; December 7, 18, 20, 24 and 25.

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Then, following the debut of “Creature Christmas,” be sure to check out the brand-new action-adventure series, Nature Cat. The show stars an ordinary housecat named Fred who becomes his alter-ego, “Nature Cat,” – backyard nature explorer – when his family leaves for the day. We’re already loving the energy and spunk from Nature Cat. Check out the site!

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As longtime Wild Kratts fans, I’m looking forward to this cool holiday special. We can’t wait to see what kind of adventure the Kratt brothers are up to for the holidays. Nature Cat sounds like so much fun! I totally envision our crazy cat having his own alter-ego every time he escapes the house! 

Back to School and Football Shopping at Sports Authority

When it comes to outfitting the kids for back to school, we entered a new frontier this year. Not only was it Biggie’s first year in public school (hello, regular clothes), but we also had 2 kids to buy new clothes for this year! We have our perennial favorite clothing stores, but I love being able to hit stores like Sports Authority to pick up clothes and sports gear.

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A few weeks ago, we hit our local Sports Authority to grab some shorts, athletic wear, some new Mets paraphernalia (Yay for clinching the NL East!) and of course, some football gear. I followed J as he made some important gear decisions and picked out some cool new duds for school.

We came home with a varied list of gear—actually more than we were anticipating. That’s what I love about Sports Authority, though: you can find a great deal for everyone in the family. I personally grabbed a few new Mets shirts that were on clearance and a new hat for the Littles. I got a kick out of J’s proud purchase of Big League Chew! ha!

Full disclosure: I received a gift card to share my shopping experience at Sports Authority. As always, opinions on NKT are my own.

 

 

 

 

Fun with Educational Insights: Crowded Waters and Hot Dots Tots

When it comes to fun new toys, we’re always game to check them out. Educational Insights sent us a few toys a few weeks ago and we’ve been having fun with them.

Hot Dots Tots

I was first introduced to Hot Dots Tots at Toy Fair a few years ago and I was immediately smitten. These interactive books come in a variety of themes and are ideal for early and beginner readers.

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We received the Animals version of Hot Dots Tots, which was suited my toddler perfectly. Elliott, The Musical Teaching Bear, makes these fun book engaging and fun to navigate. The reading tool, Elliott, is powered by 2 AAA batteries, which are inserted in the head and secured with a plate that is screwed in.

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I liked how the book asks questions and encourages problem-solving and reinforces healthy reading habits for young and eager readers.  My 3 year old loves reading conventional books, so was very intrigued when using Elliot with his Hot Dots Tots books. We can’t wait to get more books to build our library.

Crowded Waters

As Shark Week and Sharknado fanatics, we were thrilled to have a chance to play with Crowded Waters.

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This strategy game is ideal for older kids who are able to insert logic and strategy into gameplay. The board game has a board that mimics the sea with spaces to insert game pieces. Players get to choose their color and then go on to strategize their path to stay afloat in the game.

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Admittedly, this game was hard to understand at first, but once we re-read the instructions, we caught on. I like that this game makes kids think, but isn’t an intensive game where kids may lose interest. This is definitely a new mainstay for game night!

Full disclosure: I received the games to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions on NKT are mine.

 

 

Going Back to School with Target

The other week, I had the pleasure of attending a back to school event hosted by Target. The event highlighted great back to school gear and cool new styles that the retailer is featuring this season.

 

As a lunchbox fanatic, I was thrilled that model, actress and mom of 3, Camila Alves was onhand to personally share lunchbox tips!

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For those of you in the throes of back to school shopping, Target had several tips to offer that I’d love to share:

School supplies
DIY notebooks, markers, stickers and washi tape to add a personal touch

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One of the biggest trends in back to school supplies is personalization. Graphics are always awesome, but kids can truly make their gear unique with vibrant stickers and washi tape.

Backpacks & lunch bags
Target has some cool new gear that’s worth checking out. The Eco-friendly Embark Backpacks, Embark Crush Resistant Lunch Bags and Circo Light up Backpacks


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While I love and am now carrying around the Embark Crush Resistant Lunch Bag as my kids’ drink container these last few days of summer, it was that light up backpack from Circo that really caught my eye!

 

 

 

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I love that it can be switched on and off, unlike those flashing sneakers that always blind me. I thought this was a cool feature that could double as a safety feature when out at night!

Lunch items
Market Pantry and Simply Balanced products to make back-to-school snacks easy peasy.

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Truth be told, one of the main reasons almost everything I own is bought at Target is because I can get all of my shopping done under one roof! And that goes for lunch box supplies. I appreciate that Target has organic and inexpensive drinks and snacks to fill the kids’ lunch boxes. Even better, Camila shared several amazing recipes to make back-to-school snacks even more delicious!

 

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Kids’ Fashion
From Stevie’s Shoes to the new stretchy denim assortment to plaid—lots of plaid, Target has all of the best trends in stock at reasonable prices.

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Styles from my teenage years are back: moto boots, mixed patterns and plaid consumed me in the early 90s, so it’s fun to see them back on racks as my kids start school. I loved that Target had talented kid dancers at the event showcasing the stretchy jeans. With two very active boys and one who would rather see my kids in clothing other than athletic gear, I appreciate jeans and styles for active kids!

 

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And leave it up to Target to make school shopping totally seamless. Target’s new tool: School List Assist. The tool, which is in beta, is a curated assortment of the most common K-8 supplies on the list making it quick and easy for guests to find what they need. With a few clicks, you can purchase the supplies you might need and pick them up in store or have them shipped to home. For those of us who are still traveling and soaking up every last minute of summer, School List Assist sounds like it’s key in the time managment assistance department!

 

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Be sure to check out your local for the latest deals for back to school gear and supplies. And don’t forget to match and stack deals with your Cartwheel App!

Summer Reading Fun with PBS Kids

Like so many of you, our summer has been an endless list of outdoor fun. Between summer sports and fun at the lake, we’ve rarely had time to sit in and veg in front of the tv. Before we start our day, however, I tend to do some work and let Biggie enjoy some unstructured play and reading time. Before any screen time, he has to read or create something for at least 30 minutes. So far, we’ve read a Ronald Dahl book and worked on the latest Wimpy Kid book.

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Our friends at PBS Kids are always encouraging educational fun. In fact, for this summer’s reading initiative, they sent us a kit to have a little reading party with friends. Since we’re all about integrating reading in our day, we happily obliged, and had some friends over for a dessert reading party!

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In addition to our desserts, we all hung out and shared our love of books. The older kids had fun reading to the younger kids and the younger kids loved telling fun stories to the older kids. We chatted about what makes reading so fun, and also what kinds of books catch our eyes.

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In honor of the reading party, PBS Kids sent us fun goodies to share with our guests. We loved sharing bookmarks, reading charts, badges, booklets, and yes, even books! Harper Collins sent over a selection of I Can Read books, which were perfect for my soon-to-be 2nd grader and our young reading friends. I loved that so many favorite books were included, such as Fancy Nancy and Amelia Bedelia!

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Beyond the party, our friends have been loving keeping track of their reading time and sharing what books they’ve loved. We’re well on our way to finishing our new I Can Read favorites and reading aloud to little bro!

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A big thank you to PBS Kids for sending us supplies to host our Summer Reading Party. We loved sharing the reading fun with our friends! For more information about PBS Reading programs, be sure to check them out online.

 

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Full disclosure: As a PBS Kids VIP, I was sent supplies to host a summer reading party.  As always, all opinions on NKT are our own.

SwimToday and Dara Torres Promote Swimming as #FunnestSport

A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of joining an informative media event at the Asphalt Green for SwimToday, hosted by our friends at MomTrends. SwimToday is a joint, industry effort created to promote and grow participation in the sport of swimming. The campaign is led by USA Swimming, Arena USA, Speedo USA and TYR Sport.

Dubbed the #FunnestSport, this campaign hopes to highlight the many benefits of swimming as a sport. SwimToday and MomTrends brought together influencers to listen to Ambassador and Olympic Gold Medalist, Dara Torres, and hear several swim moms share their kids’ experience as swimmers. 

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Before Dara shared her experience, I enjoyed learning some benefits of swimming as shared by SwimToday:

·       It’s closer than you think – 62 percent of families live within 10 minutes of a pool; 52 percent of households with combined income of $50,000 or less report they have access to a pool nearby

·       Everyone participates – Swimming is inclusive, there are no benchwarmers (nor benches)

·       Swimming is a team sport – Only 16 percent of non-swimming parents view swimming as a team sport but parents of swimmers associate the sport with teamwork more than any other sport

·       Suit up and go – Only a swimsuit, cap and goggles are necessary to get started

·       Life skills – Swimming increases self-confidence, self-esteem, time management, goal-setting and social development

·       Easy to learn – 76 percent of parents said the ease of learning to swim was high

·       Low risk of injuryNo contact makes for a safer environment

·       Swimming = total body fitness– Burn 650 calories in an hour – more than walking, biking or team sports

·       Sport for life – Once you learn to swim, you can enjoy no matter your age

·       Swimming is FUN – Parents confirm that swimming is the #FunnestSport

I appreciated the swim moms’ different perspectives about their children’s involvement as swimmers. For some, their kids love for swimming began as tots, for others, swimming opened brand new avenues and camaraderies. I enjoyed how the moms shared how swimming rounded out their kids altogether.

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Dara Torres shared how her career as a swimmer didn’t always go swimmingly. In fact, there was a time she said that she didn’t always come in first. Since her youth, however, she said she worked hard and never gave up. She was constantly reinventing herself and striving to do more as a swimmer. I loved listening to her speak as a swim mom and how her career has molded her outlook as a parent. She was so down to earth and well-spoken. I think we could’ve listened to her talk longer, had there not been any time restraints.

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Since we live at a lake, I’m proud to be a current swim mom. My older guy enjoys being active and participating in sports, and swimming is one of those sports that we’ve just recently added to our summer schedule.

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Unlike the contact sports that he prefers, swimming is a challenge because it’s still new to him and he’s constantly competing against himself in addition to participating as a team. As the other swim moms mentioned at the SwimToday event, swimming competitively allows the kids to develop special bonds with teammates. It gives kids a chance to challenge themselves and learn how to better themselves with every lap. At 7 years old, my guy isn’t the strongest swimmer, but I appreciate his willingness to try hard and to pull through for his team.

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I see us continuing to be a swimming family, especially now knowing that my younger guy loves the water. For someone who’s had so many challenges, being in the water seems to make him feel invincible. It didn’t take much for SwimToday to convince me that swimming is the #FunnestSport. We are pretty lucky to live by the water and are able to enjoy swimming almost every day in the summer!

To learn more about SwimToday and the #FunnestSport, be sure to check them out on Facebook. Head to SwimToday.org to find a swim club near you.

 
 

Whole Wide World Toys Village Playsets Introduce Diversity and Culture

Unearthing new and innovative toys is our favorite thing to do around here. When it comes to checking out new toys that help my kids grasp different cultures and diversity, I get down-right giddy.

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As a multicultural family living in not-so-diverse town, playing with toys that allow us to have healthy conversations about race, culture and to examine what makes us different is rather important. Whole Wide World Toys sent us some a set of their new World Village Playsets—China, and we’ve been enjoying learning about China and a culture that isn’t very familiar to us.

The World Village Playset is multi-faceted; it comes with a fabric playmat, a chunky wood puzzle with 13 pieces, a My China Travel Journal and 14 story cards. The set encourages culture with creative play, and that’s exactly what I found my kids to do upon opening the set.

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My youngest was immediately drawn to the playmat and wooden puzzle pieces, whereas my older son was intrigued by the cards and journal. The playmat and wooden puzzle pieces quickly turned into a scene where they made up a story and were able to interact with one another. We learned English translation of each item from the puzzle pieces and enjoyed the story, which gave us more insight.

I appreciate that this set encourages curiosity about different cultures and serves as a wealth of conversation starters. The amount of open-ended play that the set allows is great for younger kids, as well as older grade schoolers. I especially found this set to be a wonderful way to engage in speech and language with my younger son who has a speech disability.

 

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I totally visualize that this beautiful set could be used within a classroom setting to complement a lesson about China or at home for kids who are genuinely curious about culture. I can also see this Whole Wide World Toys to be a great resource for multiracial families like ours, or in a blended family where a child is adopted from a China or another country.

Overall, this well-made playset is an excellent tool that encourages culture, creativity and conversation about the world around us. You can find Whole World Wide Village Playsets on Amazon or at specialty retailers.

The Children’s Place Spring into Style

The northeast is finally feeling the warmth of Spring, and with that, we’re starting to break out our Spring clothes. The thing I love most about Spring kids style is that we can start shedding layers and, inevitably, brighter colors come into play.

At The Children’s Place this Spring, boys and girls styles are as vibrant as ever with cool graphics and fun prints as main focal points. The boys’ clothes are a super fun mix of classic cool and modern fun. Girls’ styles are playful and eclectic, with copious amounts of sweet prints and sassy silhouettes.

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For my boys, I’m always drawn to TCP’s classic shirts and graphic tees. Since my younger one always inherits the older ones clothes, it’s important for me to stick with classic styles. I love the shirts I bought for Easter this year, and the ties and bow ties are the perfect complement, too!

Check out my Spring Haul from TCP!

Full disclosure: I was provided with a gift card to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions on NKT are my own.