# 0-3 Years, 4-7 Years, 8-12 Years, Gravity, Outdoors

Best Summer Toy for Small Yards or No Yard

Best Summer Toy for Small Yards or No Yards - TheEngineersKids

Happy First Day of Summer! I am so excited. I know everyone else has been out of school for a month, but we just got done last week! It seems so sad, I know, but usually we don’t go back to school until mid September (this year we go back in August, because they are switching us to a more “normal” schedule all because of all the testing the kids have to do in school…lame). And September is a much better month to be out of school in California.

Why you ask? Because all the touristy types have left, so it’s not crowded, and it’s way hotter than it was in May and June. So we are still partying, and picnicking, and surfing, and swimming, and Disneyland-ing, etc. Then San Diego does the whole month of October when kids get into everything free, so we just keep on partying. Which is why we all live here, even though it is so dang expensive, and our houses and yards are much smaller than in other areas.

We live in a condo. It’s small for seven people. And the backyard is only twenty feet by twenty feet, which leaves little room for slip-n-slides, pools of any sort, elaborate sprinkler systems (awwwe, I want one of these for Eva), or especially this monster that my kids are in awe of.

We beat the heat with our good old garden hose, some buckets, and our favorite hot weather toy. The kids call it a chemistry set.

Best summer toy for no yard - Water play - TheEngineersKids

The weather really warmed up here for a few days this week. The kids played chemistry on their picnic table for hours and hours. The set we used came from our local toy library, which normally I love, but this time it kind of hampered their play a bit. I felt protective of the toys, since they weren’t ours and there was mud and soap involved. The set came with a couple of small pitchers with pour-spouts, a few pipettes (like turkey basters), measuring cups and spoons, and some plastic hoses.

Best summer toy for small apartments - Water play - TheEngineersKids

Since the kids were getting the toy library toys muddy, I made them put them all away after that. We never really got them back out again, and then it was time to return them. It made me feel like a mean mom for not letting them play more when they were having so much fun with it.

Best summer toy when you have no yard - Water play - TheEngineersKids

I decided to get out some of our own tools and look into making our own “chemistry” set a little cooler. Maybe I’ll run to the dollar store to see what they have.

Here’s my shopping list:

  • bucket (ours are all cracked, and really all the play buckets at Target and Wal-Mart are just not very sturdy)
  • turkey baster
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • large and small funnels
  • plastic tubing if they’ve got it
  • a colander (so the kids can make an outdoor shower of course)

Or maybe I’ll save myself the trip and just buy this same one, since it really was pretty all-inclusive.

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See this post at After School Activities Linky Party:

After School Link Party ButtonHosted by: Mama SmilesPlanet Smarty PantsRelentlessly Fun Deceptively EducationalThe Educators’ Spin on It


# 4-7 Years, Counting

The Enchanted Forest Board Game

The Enchanted Forest Board Game - TheEngineersKids

I mention a lot that we like to change up the rules of games to suit the kids better. Enchanted Forest by Ravensburg is a game of ever-changing rules at our house.* But it has allowed us to keep playing since Finn was 4, and Jules and Mal were 3 (they are 7 and 6 now).

How you’re supposed to play it:

I actually had to go look up the rules to this game, because until the other day we had never played the real rules. Once I found them out though, I’ve been itching to play full on “for reals” with some grown-ups.

The Enchanted Forest -TheEngineersKids

Basically you have a some paths that lead you through the enchanted forest and to a castle. There are thirteen trees in the forest, and each has a picture of a treasure on the bottom. The pictures match a card in the deck. You turn the top card face up and wander the forest looking for the tree that matches the card that is face up. And try to remember which trees house which of the other treasures.

You roll the dice and can go either direction the number of spaces shown on each die. So if I rolled a 1 and a 2, I can go, left 1 left 2, right 1 right 2, left 1 right 2, or right 1 left 2. And you try to land on a space with a tree, so you can check the picture on the bottom.

Board game review of The Enchanted Forest - TheEngineersKids

Once you find a match to the face-up card, you high tail it back to the castle to go tell the king which tree the treasure is under. Watch out though, because anyone who knows you’re headed to the castle can try to land on you on their turn and send you back to the start.

First one to correctly tell the king three correct treasure locations wins.

There’s also magic. When you roll a double you can jump directly to a tree space, move your piece to a certain space right by the castle, or shuffle the cards and turn over a new face-up card.

Who wants to come over for a game night, so I can try this real rules thing out? It sounds so exciting.

How we play – version super-small-kids:

To avoid contention and speed the game up, we always kinda played as a team, by sharing information. Each player does have their own piece to move though. Each player rolls the dice, and you always use your whole count on the dice. If you come to a tree, check the picture and show everyone. If you haven’t gone your allotted number of spaces you can keep going on to towards the next tree.

When you find the tree that matches the face-up card, you get to take the card. Keep looking for all the treasures, and help each other, so everyone has roughly the same number of cards, and no one’s feelings get too hurt.

When all the treasures have been found, make your way to the castle. Keep taking turns until everyone gets to the castle.

How we play – version slightly-older-kids:

Play as in version super-small-kids, but don’t share information. Everyone is on their own looking for the treasures. Once they are all found, the first one back to the castle gets bonus points or kudos or a pat on the back. Finn sometimes gets tired of looking for treasures and heads to the castle claiming to be the winner for getting their first.

Recently, we added in the “magic” feature of the game. The kids have been liking that one.


* We love to modify the rules of every game. There’s value in making a game work well for your family, and I love giving a few ideas of alternative play. And sometimes we just dial the competitiveness down a notch to avoid kid fights.


Anyone else have any tips to keep make Enchanted Forest fun for kids?

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# 4-7 Years, Language & Stories

Puppetto Theatre Stage

Puppettos Theatre Stage - TheEngineersKids

Being a nerdy engineer, I want to play with the science and math toys.  Luckily I let the kids choose their own play things once in a while. I always underestimate the value and fun in performing, stories, literature, music, and language.

Puppettos Theatre Stage - fingerpuppets - TheEngineersKids

Jules and Malena* chose the Manhattan Toy Puppettos Puppet Theatre to play with today. You can buy the finger puppets separately to customize to your taste. We had princess, dragon, king, knight finger-puppets for all your princess-y fairy tales, and the big bad wolf and the three little pigs, complete with straw, sticks, and bricks. I also saw these cute alien finger puppets that are so cute. I can just imagine the hilarious plays the kids would come up with those.

Puppettos Theatre Stage - Manhattan Toy - TheEngineersKids

The Puppet Theater has doors that fold open in the back to help it stand up. Also, there are little pockets in the doors that come in pretty handy to hold a couple of sets of finger puppets.

*current age of kids 7, 6, 6, 3, 1

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Quadrilla Wooden Mable Run - TheEngineersKids
# 4-7 Years, 8-12 Years, Gravity, Toy Reviews by Age, Toy Reviews by Topic

Quadrilla Wooden Marble Run

The Quadrilla Basic Set marble run is something new we checked out from our local toy library. At the toy library we can only choose two toys at a time, so we’ve been alternating between boys and girls. This week was boys’ turn. Finn* walked in, saw this wooden marble run immediately, and shouted, “Yes! A marble run. Finally, I can do a marble run!” Leto, following suit, looked around and spotted a set of sound blocks (the first thing he saw), and shouted , “Yes! I want this.” He loves his big brother, and that was the fastest in and out of the toy library ever.


The quadrilla basic set doesn’t have very many pieces, but the support blocks make it interesting. Some allow the marble to pass through a tunnel, some shoot it out a hole on the side, and one is a switch that selects one track and then the other for the next marble. At first I was afraid Finn was going to be too frustrated, but he picked up on how the support blocks work really quickly and had fun using the different ones.

The instructions come with a few tracks that can be made with the basic set, plus it includes some teaser tracks that you need a larger set to build. Well played, Quadrilla.

How we play it:**

For the most part the kids built the tracks that were on the instructions. Finn was able to create a couple of new tracks, but making ones that worked was a little tricky for Jules and Malena. I think I remember Finn attempting a two-level track that utilized the step between our master bathroom and bedroom.

One fun change Finn made was to line up a bunch of marbles on the track.

Quadrilla Wooden Marble Run - TheEngineersKids

Then, like you’d expect, the marble coming down would hit the line and the energy would transfer through all the others and push the last one off the track. But then, we tried it on a different track and the energy would transfer though to the last two marbles, but only the very last would have enough energy to get off the track. The second-to-last would get almost to the edge, but then slow and roll back and get back in line with all the others. Am I too nerdy to find that exciting? I can deal with that. It was pretty surprising and Finn thought it was funny.

Leto needed my help to follow the instructions to build a track, but I was surprised how much fun he had just stacking up the support blocks into towers and dropping marbles through them. You could put marbles into the various holes and sometimes they would fall through to the bottom and sometimes they would pop out the side. It was kinda exciting.

Also surprising was how much fun Eva had with it. I played with her, since I didn’t want her choking on a marble, and she had a lot of fun. She could stack the towers up a little bit like Leto, and she loved to see the marbles pop out in different spots. I made a track for her that had two endings, and she squealed in delight and told me (in baby language or course…I love this age when I am the only person in the whole world who knows what she is saying) that the marbles were coming out both sides. She also loved to just set up a support block and a ramp and watch the marbles roll around the floor after dropping them in.

 How you’re supposed to play it:

I think I pretty much covered that. Build tracks for the marbles, see the instructions if you need help. Overall, I think we will be checking this one out from the toy library again in the future. It was lots of fun for everyone. Personally, I would love to try out the music mixer add-on or the music motion set.

How about you? Do you have a favorite kind of marble track? I happen to love the ones with a big jump.


* Current ages of the kids: Finn 7, Jules and Malena 6, Leto 3, Eva 15 months

** I love to show you some of the ways to play with the toy that are not necessarily what was intended by the toy designers.

# Probability & Statistics, Toy Reviews by Age

Disney Princess Enchanted Cupcake Party Game

Disney Enchanted Cupcake Party

Let me introduce you to the Disney Princess Enchanted Cupcake Party Game  (Sheesh, that’s a long name! We just call it the cupcake game.) My favorite part is the cupcakes that are designed to match the Disney princesses. Here is Jules displaying the Belle cupcake.


Something about taking the essential design elements and colors of each princess and turning it into a cupcake that you would recognize as belonging to that princess really satisfies my brain. It gives a little sigh of happiness like all is right with the world. Maybe that’s just me.

The game also includes other cards that mix two or four princesses to make unique cupcakes. Using this idea of creating different combinations is so sciency in such a girly, princessy game. They can easily recognize that there are a lot of combinations that they can create (10,000 to be exact).


How we play it:*

We play this game by the real rules (see below) whenever the kids are not feeling too stressed. The grown ups really like the real rules. Some of our kids don’t really like competition or the pressure of building the cupcakes against the clock. Frequently we play without the sand timer.

We spread out the tiles face down, then take turns flipping one over. As a team, we try to get the Mix, Bake, Decorate tiles (in any order)  before we get all four Clock tiles. Whoever chooses the third of the Mix, Bake Decorate tiles, gets to choose a recipe card and build the cupcake of their choice. If we get all four Clock tiles, we say “oh, bummer” and flip all the tiles face down, and try again to get the Mix, Bake, Decorate tiles.

Of course, sometimes they just want to have a tea party. They love to choose their favorite cupcakes or make one they think Daddy will like. It’s fun to see their personalities or current moods come out in the choices they make.

 How you’re supposed to play it:

Make a big pile of cupcake parts. Turn all the tiles face down, and choose pink, blue, or purple recipe cards to use. Take turns turning over a tile. If you get all three Mix, Bake and Decorate tiles, start the sand timer, and work together to build as many cupcakes (using one recipe card at a time) as you can before the timer runs out. When the timer runs out, flip all the face down again, and repeat. In any round, if you get all four Clock tiles before you get all three Mix, Bake, Decorate tiles, the game is over. Try to see how many cupcakes you can make in one game.


* We love to modify the rules of every game. There’s value in making a game work well for your family, and I love giving a few ideas of alternative play. And sometimes we just dial the competitiveness down a notch to avoid kid fights.


How about you? Does your family play Disney Princess Enchanted Cupcake Party Game? Do you have any fun rule modifications?

# 0-3 Years, 4-7 Years, Counting, Math, Toy Reviews by Age, Toy Reviews by Topic

Fish-A-Ree – Toy Review


Fish-A-Ree is sort of Memory meets Let’s Go Fishin’, without the hassle of trying to get the fish to actually bite the little magnet. It has been a really fun game for my 3 year old, and even though it is a simple game, the slightly older kids (mine are 5 and 7) have enjoyed sitting and playing with him.


How we play it:*

Fish-A-Ree is kind of a new game for us. So far the kids have been having a ton of fun with the little measuring tape it comes with. They measure the fish, they measure each other, they measure the baby and she gets mad that they are pinning her down for measurement. That type of thing.

Leto (age 3) has also enjoyed just setting up the game. He likes to put all the fish in the holes, take them out and line them up in order by length, decide on which fish is his favorite, match the fish (there are 2 of each length), and pretend to eat them.


How you’re supposed to play it:

The slightly older kids (age 5 and 7) like to play the right way. You stick a bunch of the fish into their slots, so just the bobber sticks up. Then you draw a card that tells you how many units long of a fish you need, try to draw the fish that is that long, and put it back if you’re wrong or keep it if you’re right.



Malena and Jules playing Fish-A-Ree:

* We love to modify the rules of every game. There’s value in making a game work well for your family, and I love giving a few ideas of alternative play. And sometimes we just dial the competitiveness down a notch to avoid kid fights.

How about you? Does your family play Fish-A-Ree? Do you have any fun rule modifications? Has your baby gotten pinned to the floor so the bigger kids can measure her?