Craft Kits and Supplies
Faber-Castell World Colors Modeling Clay (Faber-Castell $5.99) Unlike Play-doh, this modeling clay never dries out. What makes the set special is that it includes multiple skin tones, so kids can make figures that reflect our human diversity.
Gift Box Ornament Decorator (HEY Buddy, HEY Pal $29.99) Here's a great way to make a family heirloom, personally decorated Christmas Tree ornaments! Just put one of the three included ornaments onto the spinner and touch it with one of the non-toxic markers. (Refill sets are also available.)
Mindware Dinosaur Dig it Up! (Mindware) The unknown verse of the Twelve Days of Christmas goes, "on the twelfth day of Christmas, my mom and daddy gave to me twelve dinosaur eggs!" Soak these "dinosaur eggs" in water and then kids can excavate them, digging out the dino toy buried within using the supplied tool. There are twelve in the box, meaning you dole them out for each day of vacation, or the twelve days leading up to a big event like a birthday party or Christmas. Mindware has produced some of my favorite toys this season; don't overlook Qwirkle Collector's Edition ($49.99) or the original set ($24.99), a great matching game, fun for early school years to adults.
Janod Brico Kids Robots (Janod $34.99) Recommended for kids 3 and up, this set has the parts to make many robot designs from the mix-and-match parts. Each robot is about 7" tall, and are solely powered by imagination, not by batteries.
Mindware Q-Ba-MAZE Sparkle Builder Set (Mindware $45.95) I've written about Q-Ba-MAZE over the years, and this sparkling set was a big hit with my toy testers. Comprised of translucent blocks and tracks, the pieces can be combined into exciting marble runs. Getting the results you want can take time and patience, and getting the most from the set develops dexterity, critical thinking, and visual-spatial acuity.
LEGO has evolved over the years from a mostly open-ended construction system that typified how we originally played with it, to more instruction oriented modeling sets with hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces to be put together "just so". There is a lot to be said for both approaches. The former emphasizes creativity, the latter attention to detail. Regardless, LEGO building builds patience and dexterity, while rewarding kids with creations that can be used as the jumping off point for further play.
If your youngster is more inclined to do-it-herself and less interested in following someone else's ideas, the LEGO Classic Large Creative Brick Box (LEGO $59.99) might be just the thing. With 790 pieces in a giant lego brick storage case, it offers a true sandbox experience.
Kit builders, have a wide range of choices. Some of the best this year include LEGO CITY Main Square (LEGO $139) with over 1500 pieces to create the buildings and vehicles of an imaginary city. These can be combined with wooden blocks and train sets to create whole environments of play.
If you're looking for something less expensive, with a timely message of environmental consciousness, and a much easier build, the 183 piece LEGO Friends Olivia’s Electric Car (LEGO $14.99) includes the car, two female figures and a dog, as well as a play wind turbine and solar panel.
For my family, the Star Wars vehicles from LEGO have always been a favorite. The LEGO Star Wars Imperial Shuttle (LEGO $55.99) has been update for 2021 in a 660 piece kit. Its foldable wings and three action figures (including Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker) make this a coveted item.