Ask the grumpies: good building toys

OMDG asks:

What are good toys for kids who like to build things in addition to blocks and legos?

You mentioned in addition to blocks, but our kids have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of less-mainstream blocks, so we are mentioning those as well.

We like pixel blocks for small stuff– these are like single unit legos that can be attached via the sides as well as the top and bottom.  (The somewhat lower than expected reviews are because, unlike lego, their quality control is not perfect and some of the blocks don’t fit perfectly.)

A very simple version of blocks are Kapla blocks.  I don’t know why these are so fun given that they come in just one size/shape, but they have provided hours of entertainment for all ages.

Tegu blocks, which are slightly magnetic, continue to be really awesome.

For little kids, HABA makes a lot of fun versions of blocks that are a bit different from ordinary blocks in different ways.

Train sets are also many hours of building fun.  Brio makes a good one that is interchangeable with some other sets.

Ozobot was great for like a week and then the kids completely lost interest.  Probably not worth the expense.  (Note:  this starter kit is 2x the cost of the one we got!)

Snap circuits had longer staying power but they ended up getting scattered all over the house and stopped being used.

Our favorite science kit so far has been the Magic School Bus chemistry version.  It’s fun!

A pack of playing cards and access to youtube videos on how to do card tricks has kept DC1 entertained for days on end.

The fun and healthy kids’ cookbook is a good one.

DH and DC2 are both hooked on pixelhobby.  (This is not a cheap hobby, but the output is nice enough to become Christmas presents for other people.)

These fascinations metal earth kits also result in really nice output (DC1 made the lighthouse one for MIL last year), but you do need needle nose pliers.

Binoculars are cool.

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What are we getting people for Christmas this year?

DC1:  A set of trick decks for the stocking (DC1 is really into card and coin tricks),

DC2:  Spanish coloring book,  a set of 5 field notebooks and a wellspring flip note (DC2 is really into drawing and list making and notes)

BIL1:  Anti-hero, for the king, and into the breach.  I am told these are steam games.

SIL1:  Usually we get SIL books off her amazon list but this year we only got her Binti:  Home and instead got her the first Timestories game off her wish list because DH really enjoys Timestories.

nephew 1:  A meccano microid and a minecraft plush pig from his amazon wishlist.

niece 1:  We renewed her subscription to the Braille of the Month book club.  Apparently they’ve really been enjoying it.  (The nonprofit provides the books at less than cost, so we also gave them a donation– what a great program.)

BIL2:  We never know what to get for him, so we generally just give an amazon gift card.  This year is no exception.

SIL2:  She had a bunch of stuff for work, mostly craft paper, on her amazon wishlist, so we got that.

nephew 2:  He’s easy to shop for because he’s a similar age to our DC2 and has similar interests, so we got more Magic Treehouse books (our DC2 is not a fan, but our DC1 was, and they were a big hit last year), bad kitty books, and a book of facts that DC2 really enjoyed.

niece 2:  She’s a bit harder because we have to remember what we gave nephew 2 at that age (not to be confused what we gave the other niece and nephew).  Generally we make a list and then ask SIL2 if there are duplicates.  This year we got Go Dog Go, Put me in the Zoo, Big Dog Little Dog,  Sneeches, Green Eggs and Ham, and one fish two fish.

MIL:  Life has gotten easier since she got a wish list!  We got her the Michelle Obama memoir and a non-crisping ninja foodi (so.. basically an instapot?) that is backordered on amazon and may not get there until after January.

FIL:  An instant food thermometer and a gift certificate to Cabela’s.

Sister:  She’s been doing a lot more cooking lately and asked for a bread book, so we got her DH’s current go-do– Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno.  I would call this a recipe book for the advanced beginner.  It has a lot of really good information (with pictures) about different types of bread, ingredients, and multiple techniques before it gets into the recipes.  It’s not a coffee table book with rich histories like Home Baking, nor is it a trendy artisan bread in 5 min a day, but we learned a lot of techniques from it and it’s got a lot of variety and almost all the recipes we’ve tried have been excellent.  (Exception:  DH notes on the soft pretzel recipe:  THESE ARE NOT PRETZELS, need baking soda.)  We don’t know what else to get her– she has said she will think about what she wants.

Mother:  The local bookstore in her town went out of business, so I guess it is back to Amazon gift cards.

Father:  I’ve given up here.

For #2 I got her a bunch of excellent books off her wish list including three for kindle that I sent her right away because Amazon sucks for gift giving via kindle (stuff stays on the wish list so you might end up with two people buying you the same thing).  I got her Deception by Amanda Quick, KJ Charles’ retelling of the Prisoner of Zenda, and Band Sinister.  The other stuff is still a secret.

 

#2 says:  This year, as with most years, it’s an Icelandic-style bookflood for me.  Though I still have to figure out what to get for DH.

Some anonymous spending polls for Christmas :)

For the family member ones, pick the person or people you would consider to fill that role (ignoring DNA unless you don’t want to ignore DNA).

Each one of these is a separate poll, so you’ll have to click the vote button for each one.  Sorry!

What are we getting for people this year?

My sister said she wanted a chef’s knife and a paring knife, so after some conversation, we got her a santoku (Shun), a paring knife, and an electric knife sharpenerThis post of ours really helped me!  I don’t know what DC1 is going to give her this year, but DC2 has been working really hard on a 4 plate pixel hobby with 8 ballet dancers on it (DC1 gave my sister a pixel hobby with a pair of ballet slippers on it at about the same age).

Sadly, the bookstore in my mom’s town just went out of business (as did the Barnes and Noble a few years back), so either I get her a giftcard to someplace half an hour or more away, or she gets an Amazon giftcard.  Aha!  I realized that she’ll be staying at my sister’s around Christmas, so I can get her a card she can use at the half price books near my sister’s place.

For everyone else it has been harder!

MIL:  She started an amazon list this year!  Woooo!  When DH found that out (on the phone on Thanksgiving while trying to pump her for any hint of what she could possibly want) his stress level visibly dropped 75%.  We popped through and got a bunch of “Nanarelated merch (I guess replacing her previous Green Bay Packers theme?) as well as a number of hard-boiled mystery novels.  (My mom runs more towards cozy mysteries, DH’s prefers the tougher stuff.)

FIL:  Now that FIL is retired, he’s spending more time hunting.  Plus he’s making sure there’s plenty of game on the plot of land he inherited from his parents.   So in addition to the Cabela’s giftcard we usually send him, we’re also sending a highly rated game cookbook.

BIL1:  DH is waiting for a game to go on sale so he can get a copy for his brother and his cousin both.  (I assume we’ll also be sending a check to the cousin, but I don’t know for how much yet.)

SIL1:  It is always a pleasure to shop for SIL1 because she has an up-to-date amazon wish list!  And she puts cool things on it!  And she has great taste in books!  This year I’m adding the Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal and KJ Charles’ regency series.

Cousins 1 and 2:  The younger has been learning braille, so we got her a subscription to the children’s braille book of the month club.  (It is pretty heavily subsidized, so we added on a donation.  What a great program.)  This is the first time we’ve known what to get hir!  For the older we’re getting the dragonbox complete math pack and big numbers which is too new to be in their complete math pack.  (Usually we also buy books for their oldest, but he’s already got most of what our DC1 likes.)

BIL2 and SIL2: This one was hard this year.  The past few years there’s been a good excuse to just write a check (a new house purchase, saving for a house, babies, paying off wedding debt, etc.) but this year none of that has been recent or immediate.  When DH tried to pump SIL2 for information on the phone, she was non-committal and said she’d update her amazon wishlist, which she always says and rarely does.  DH suggested not exchanging gifts among the adults with her nuclear family, but apparently she demurred.  I wish he’d just asked her straight up about checks vs. giftcards, but he didn’t.  We do have a bunch of $5 off amazon luxury beauty products and she does have a $20 foundation from 2014 on her list– we could get her that and the pair of $14 earrings from 2014 but that’s literally all that is on her list right now, other than a bunch of size 0-3 month onesies and diapers that will probably not fit either her rising 3 year old or her 5 year old.  [Update:  We got her the foundation and the earrings, and then a little over a week later she actually did update her list so we got her one of the books on teaching she wanted and now we are 100% done with holiday shopping other than that one game that DH is taking care of and stocking stuffers.  Yay.]

Cousins 3 and 4:  SIL did ok us buying books again for her kids (given how many toys everyone gets from the grandparents).  For the older one (about the same age as our DC2), we got Magic Treehouse and Magic School Bus books and the Magic School Bus chemistry kit.  For the younger one, ladybug girl, the Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, Elephant and Piggie books, and Beautiful Oops.

For someone who likes art and lives in Milwaukee

What are you getting for peeps this year?

Stuff we’ve really enjoyed having this year

(besides books, though KJ Charles rocks!)

I love this teapot I got for my Birthday last year.  It is so easy to use and to clean, and it makes the right amount of tea for when you want, you know, a pot instead of just a mug.

Although you should probably not gift this to anyone, this home laser hair removal thing  has been fantastic.  I barely need to pluck my chin anymore at all (with the exception of a few white hairs that laser won’t get) and it’s been a few weeks since I’ve done even a touch-up with the laser.

I still really like my moleskin weekly planner, even though everyone else has switched to Google Calendar.

This Solo travel bag I got myself has been perfect for overnight travel without having to take a roller-bag.  For those who cannot part with the roller-bag, one of my colleagues swears by these packing cubes and will be getting them for almost everyone on her list this year.

This amazing lamp was everything I wanted and more!

DH loves this little pocket pen.  It is pretty clever.

Our in-laws love this ice cream scoop we got them, although it is not dishwasher safe.

#2 enjoys watching her DH play the latest Assassin’s Creed game.

Here’s a previous post on little things that just work.  I still get a lot of pleasure from using a high quality pencil sharpener.

What stuff has been “sparking joy” for you over the past year?

When do you open presents?

When I was a kid, after much negotiation with our parents, we were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve and the rest of our presents on Christmas day.

As an adult, I don’t have to wait.  I open them as they come.  In fact, I used this amazing three tier rack which was this year’s Christmas present to me from my MIL to hold rolls, cornbread, and zucchini bread at Thanksgiving this year because she does her Christmas shopping early.  Similarly, I told DH I wanted a better reading lamp situation and he got me this amazing floor lamp that does everything I wanted and doesn’t even require a hole in the wall or a headboard for the bed (my favorite part:  the way the light switch lights up when I fumble for it in the dark).  I have been appreciating it for weeks now.  I have also been enjoying downloading my shiny new kindle book presents as they come– I will read them through our holiday travel.

#2 is different– she likes surprises and opens everything on Christmas morning.  I know this because she always thanks me via IM on Christmas.  (See also:  her birthday.)

Of course, what one does as an adult doesn’t necessarily translate into what one forces on one’s children.  Part of the magic of being an adult is that you no longer have to do what your parents tell you to do, but before then you mostly have to.  So that means since the kids have gotten old enough to understand Christmas, we’ve generally been saving their Christmas presents for them to open on Christmas morning.  Given our in-laws’ generosity, this can get overwhelming.

This year we’ve got complicated travel plans.  On the 23rd, we’re taking the kids to the city where they will stay at my sister’s with my parents.  Then we will join them on the 24th.  Then on the 25th, we’re getting on a plane to visit DH’s family.  I asked my mom if she wanted to see the kids open their presents from her (she’s already sent them via the magic of Amazon) or if we should open them before heading into the city.  She said whatever was easiest, noting that we shouldn’t have to drive presents all over the place or leave them at my sister’s.  So we’ll be doing some of the unwrapping on the 23rd.  DC1 will be able to pick out which new books to take with hir while traveling, something that will make life easier for everyone.  Then there will be more presents on the 25th since my in-laws have decided to ship the kids’ presents to their place rather than ours (which itself brings the logistical hassle of getting stuff back home).

This past Saturday I let DC1 open the present from my mom that I knew was a Rubix Cube because zie had gotten so good at the computer version that I thought maybe it was time for a real one.  Zie has been spending every non-chore moment this weekend messing up and solving and messing up and solving again.  (In fact, it’s likely that the ~$10 Rubix cube would crowd out time spent on the ~$250 handheld Nintendo thing that my MIL is getting hir if zie opened them the same day!)

On the one hand, I feel like spreading things out allows each gift to be appreciated and to give me maximal pleasure.  On the other hand, it does take away a little bit of the magic of Christmas.  But we do always do the stockings (full of candy!) on Christmas even if some of the other presents get pushed earlier.  And maybe the magic of Christmas should be less about gifts and more about family, I dunno.

And of course, poor DC1 gets showered with even more presents just a few days later given hir holiday birthday.  This year we’re traveling on hir birthday so we’ll probably celebrate with cake the day before with the in-laws and maybe with my sister on the day.  We’ll see.  We will leave hir birthday presents from us* and from my parents to be unwrapped when we conclude our travels.

*My sister claims this violin tuner is really a gift to ourselves…she’s not wrong.

When do you open gifts– as soon as you get them, or do you wait until the celebrated event (be it a religious holiday or your birthday)?  Has it changed as you’ve gotten older?  If applicable, do you enforce the same rules on your children? 

Books that foster a growth mindset in kids (and grownups)

We are totally into growth mindsets as a way to be.  In fact, we have blogged about growth mindsets at least a couple of times before.  And we’ve discussed Mindset by Carol Dweck here and there.  Here’s some additional resources for fostering growth mindsets in kids.  Some of them we’ve posted before, but some are new to us, thanks to #1’s sister who provided us with a list of resources (shoutout!)

You can learn anything: A cool video.

Here are some more books for kids of all ages, with brief commentary on the ones we’ve read:

Dream Big, Little Pig! by Kristi Yamaguchi. Companion: It’s a Big World, Little Pig!
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (we like this one, classic!)
The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubunstein
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D.
Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg (big recommend!  So fun!)
A Little Bit of Oomph! by Barney Saltzberg
Ish by Peter H. Reynolds (#2 finds Peter H. Reynolds to be annoyingly preachy and especially dislikes So Few of Me, which seems to be digging at the parent reading the book rather than being for the kid)
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires (HUGE recommend!  Describes the engineering process perfectly through the eyes of a budding young engineer and her dog.)
Flying! by Kevin Luthardt
Someday by Eileen Spinelli
The OK Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The Mermaid and the Shoe by K G Campbell
Make Magic! Do Good! by Dallas Clayton
A Is for Awesome by Dallas Clayton
Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler
Lily the Unicorn by Dallas Clayton
What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada
I Can Be Anything! by Jerry Spinelli
Almost by Richard Torrey
Mistakes That Worked by Charlotte Jones
Prudence Wants a Pet by Cathleen Daley (the illustrations are hilarious)
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae (DC1 really liked this one back when zie was a toddler)

See anything you want for the people in your life this non-denominational holiday or birthday season?  Any other suggestions for great books that promote growth mindsets?