Fight the summertime slide with these great games and toys

As heard on SiriusXM
A JamesGames  Review!
By: James Oppenheim | Created: 2018-07-25 02:31:21 | (Updated: 0000-00-00 00:00:00)

On July 25, 2018 at 11am EST I'll be talking about toys and games to help kids stay sharp during the summer break.  Here are some of the products I'll be covering.

Construction Sets

Quercetti Georello Tech Three Dimensional Structure ($38.38) Quercetti makes a number of sets that let kids explore the way gears work.  This one is special because the gears can work in a three dimensional space and can even be linked by a chain.  The 165 piece set comes with plans for various creations, but the real fun is the open-ended play as kids learn how to make machines that move the way they want them to go.  5-8.

Hape Quadrilla Music Motion ($59.99) The Quadrilla ball runs come in various size sets.  They have blocks and tracks that can be assembled in many different ways.  In this set there are chimes that can be triggered to make notes as the balls make their way through the child’s creation.  Though younger children might enjoy playing this with mom or dad, it is challenging and really designed for elementary school age kids.  The Quadrilla marble runs are part of a system that can be combined from various sets and add-ons.  Also recommended: Hape Quadrilla Sonic Playground (a xylophone slide for the marbles), and the great sets with spirals, like the Race to the Finish, Castle Escape, and Cliffhanger.

 Lakeshore Hardwood Unit Blocks, Starter Set ($299)  Block building is such a fantastic enterprise because it exercises the imagination, at the same time it teaches about the way things work, and develops coordination and muscle skills.  The 108 big, solid blocks like these with plenty of interesting shapes are a far cry from the lighter, sometimes splinter-ridden, soft-wood versions you’ll see for far less.  These are of the same quality you’re likely to see in a school situation and will be of value throughout your child’s development.  Lakeshore also makes a much less expensive block set for less than half the cost ($139) that contains a similar number of pieces and shapes made out of dense foam. 

Ravensburger Gravitrax Marble Run ($57.65) Ravensburger is known for its puzzles, and though this is a marble run, it is equally a puzzle set.  Even though there are pictograph instructions, it takes careful attention to detail to be able to create them.  The set is augmented by an app that has blueprints and also lets you experience the tracks from the marble’s point of view.  Many expansion sets are available, but the basic set will keep kids working for quite some time! 8+

 Keva Color Pops ($34.99) You know those gradated color chips you find in a paint store?  The MindWare Keva Color Pops are like them, but in block or plank form.  There are two sets (one in shades of purple, the other teal).  All the pieces are identical, except for color and can be combined to create three-dimensional structures.  There are designs kids can recreate, or they can just let their imagination run wild as they learn about symmetry and balance.

Strictly Bricks Trap and Gap Baseplates (24.99) A lot of Lego sets are very structured, but some of the greatest fun comes from open-ended play and creation.  This set (not by Lego, but works with Lego) is a series of platforms and ramps that can be turned into a garage, a home, or an evil lair.  It is a great add-on for dedicated Lego builders. This set has four levels, a lesser expensive one ($14.99) has two.

Science Sets

MyFirstLab Duo-Scope Microscope ($70) This is one of the best “toy” microscopes I’ve tested.  It comes with a host of accessories including several prepared slides.  The glass optics raise this to a higher level of resolution than other units; you get 40x, 100x, and 400x magnification.  The scope has built in lights that clearly illuminate either from above or below depending on the type of specimen.

My First Lab STEM Mini Inspector ($10) is a microscope and light  that clips onto most smartphones.  Since you use the phone’s screen to view the objects, you can also grab pictures of what you see. 


Puzzles make great activities when the weather outside is too wet or too hot.  The best kid’s puzzles are both fun to complete, but also give additional information afterwards.  Here are some of the best new puzzles:

 eeBoo 48 Piece USA Map Giant Floor Puzzle ($16.95) Kids learn state names, capitals, and facts about them in this 24 x 36 inch puzzle.  The puzzle pieces are cut in the shape of the states, so kids are getting a tactile sense of each. 5+  The Innovative Kids America The Beautiful 60 Piece Floor Puzzle ($19.99)  has similar information, but uses random puzzle shapes.  This means that any given piece might have parts of more than one state on it, making it a bit more challenging.  7+

Mudpuppy Woodland Forest Search and Find Puzzle ($16.95)

Mudpuppy Dinosaur Search and Find Puzzle ($16.95)

As the names suggest, after finishing these 64 piece puzzles, it is fun to find the many animals depicted. Mudpuppy also has similar puzzles about outer space, the rainforest, ocean life, and other science based subjects.  If you’re going to be traveling this summer, consider Mudpuppy’s line of magnetic puzzles.  Each set has 2 twenty piece puzzles that come with their own storage book.  5+

 Outdoor Fun

Play Monster Ultra Dash ($9.70) One of the few battery powered toys I’m recommending this summer, this game has kids chasing to tap targets, matching the color shown on the toy.  The set comes with five targets and three game modes, and will keep kids moving!

 Diggin Squap Pop Paddles ($24.95) Who would have thought there were still ways to innovate a good game of catch.  The gimmick here are the mits which are used to launch and catch the balls using their built-in action.  No batteries needed! 6+


Blue Orange Games Maki Stack Family Party Game ($25.12) This stacking game uses pieces shaped like sushi!  The object is to follow the instructions on the cards as to how to stack the items.  The trick is that under certain circumstances you have to do it blindfolded.  In other cases, you and your teammate must coordinate using just one finger each to place the object.  Listening skills, coordination, and reinforcement of geometric shape names make this a summer winner. 7+

 Other recommended games:

Blue Orange Happy Bunny Cooperative Game ($19.99) The object is to help the bunny get more carrots than the farmer. The bottom of the carrots are stuck into the board, so you don’t know in advance if you have a good one or a bad one, till you pluck it from the field. The game develops counting, color matching, and sorting.  4+

The Incredibles Save the Day ($19.99)  I know, your kids say they will only play games based on licensed characters.  Well, often these are just an excuse to sell more tie-in merchandise, but without much play value.  This one is different.  In this cooperation game the object is to work together to solve problems.   Fun for 1 to 4 players. 6+

Smart Games Squirrels Go Nuts ($14.99)

Smart Games Asteroid Escape ($14.99)

These are solo puzzle games similar to the Think Fun robotic games I recommended at the holidays.  You have to slide the puzzle pieces to work your way through the sixty challenges in each set.  These make great games for travel. 8+


Programming and Robotics

Brio World Smart Engine Set with Action Tunnels ($89.99)  Brio’s wooden trains have worked just fine without batteries, but this latest set has some electronic additions that are nice additions to the play pattern.  The engine has a motor, sound effects and lights, but best of all it interacts with pieces that wirelessly tell it to back up or stop.  It is pure magic to see it in operation, and pure simplicity to use.

Wonder Workshop Sketch Kit ($39.99) for Dash ($148.57) One of the problems with robots for kids is that they are limited in what they can do beyond move and squawk.  Even the starter version of Dash does significantly more, providing a multi-app approach to introducing kids to programming.  The Sketch kit goes well beyond, giving the robot the ability to draw! A large (nearly 40”x80”) whiteboard mat is available separately.