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By Roberta Munoz
Creating, constructing, and building from scratch have not gone out of style. Despite a flood of beeping and blinking tech-centric products at this year’s Toy Industry Association Toy Fair, arts and crafts and do-it-yourself activity kits were well represented. Read on to see some of the most interesting offerings.
DIY and hands-on crafts projects for girls have started to move away from overdoses of pink, but it’s rare to find a product that ditches the plastic as well. Kiss Naturals is a company out of Canada that makes all natural craft kits for kids using safe, non-toxic, organic ingredients. The sets are geared toward girls without being too frilly or fussy—budding crafters can make things like soap, lip balm, perfume, and more. Girls—and maybe boys too—can use the kits to create their own eco-friendly products while learning some simple, hands-on science. The Kiss Naturals kits are an appealing crafting option for a wide range of ages. Although very safe, younger kids will probably need adult supervision.
(Kiss Naturals; $15 to $20; ages 6+)
Build & Imagine StoryWalls
Build & Imagine is a scrappy start-up that’s surfing one of the biggest toy trends of the year—building and construction kits for girls. These StoryWalls kits consist of painted “picture boards” that snap together magnetically to create custom buildings and scenes. Each kit has a theme like “seaside cafe” or “beach house” that guides the creation, but doesn’t dictate specific structures or storylines. Kids can piece together a 3D puzzle and the activity aspect is very engaging and hands-on. StoryWalls is an awesome idea that’s still in its infancy.
(Build & Imagine; Price TBD; ages 4+)
Wood WorX Model Kits
Wood WorX Model Kits are as old school as it gets—classic crafts kits with wooden pieces, glue, paint brushes, and more. “Make ‘em, paint ‘em, stick ’em, play ’em” is their motto—no electronics required. There are many different model kits aimed at both boys (robots and dragons) and girls (jewelry). Wood WorX is a great plastic and battery-free option for individual or family playtime. Kits come in a range of difficulty levels. Because of small parts and messy paints, younger children should be supervised by adults.
(Colorific; $10 to $25; ages 5-12)
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This great arts and crafts option from the new Geek & Co. line of kits from Thames and Kosmos is geared toward younger, elementary-aged students. Using easy, safe, materials like foil, silver cardboard, and clay, kids can create UFOs and space alien figures while learning about extraterrestrial life. The results are super cute and the alien theme is a great hook that will motivate little learners to explore simple science concepts.
(Geek & Co./Thames and Kosmos; $19.95; ages 8+)
3D Sidewalk Chalk
Another great new offering from Geek & Co., 3D Sidewalk Chalk lets budding chemists mix and mold their own art materials to form colorful chalk. Once kids have enough colors they can start drawing and creating—on sidewalks or anywhere they like. In addition to stimulating creativity, 3D Sidewalk Chalk comes complete with 3D glasses to make the artwork pop. Designed to introduce kids to mixing, color theory, and the science behind 3D illusions, 3D Sidewalk Chalk is a very safe and engaging hands-on creativity tool. Still, parents should provide some supervision—unless they want to end up with masterpieces all over the walls and furniture!
(Geek & Co./Thames & Kosmos; $14.95; ages 8+)
It’s hard to know what category to place Ludos in. It’s a digitally dependent plaything, but it’s also a tangible, do-it-yourself tool that teaches young children programming basics. The hardware is a basic tray with spaces for the pieces, called “ludos.” Kids place the pieces into the holes and fit them together like a puzzle. The different combinations of ludos both cause and control elements of a game on the screen. The sequence matters, as does the function of each piece, much like commands in programming. It’s a remarkably innovative way of teaching abstract concepts using visible and “touchable” elements that can be manipulated in real time and real space. It’s easy enough for a preschooler to try, although older kids will catch on more quickly.
(Digital Dream Labs; Price TBD; ages 4-12)