Monday, June 27, 2011

A Summer Full of Backyard Safaris

Summertime has arrived and that means it is time for kids to play outdoors, have a break from organized play and have some time for imaginative exploring. It is time for watching the intricate design on a butterfly’s wings, catching fireflies and listening to birds, frogs and such. Backyard Safari Outfitters has a wonderful line of “equipment” for explorers ages 5 and up. I got a close up look at the whole line at Toy Fair 2011 in February and now I have received two items in the line to review.

A basic building block in this line of backyard exploring gear is the Essential Field Gear Utility Belt. The belt features two adjustable d-ring loops, a canvas pouch and space for two collection bottles. The set is filled out with a specimen vial bottle and clip for the belt, a field compass, a bug vac holder (the vac is purchased separately) and a pop-up Essential Field Guide. A guide is included in all sets.

A fully equipped field gear utility belt will make any 5 – 8 year old feel ready to explore the backyard and beyond. The equipped belt will encourage exploring the wonders of nature and the compass will make learning about direction fun. The Field Guide gives lots of ideas on what to do on your backyard safari.

I have also been looking at the EXPEDITION ONE 3-in-1 Compass and it is sure to be an intriguing tool for the young backyard explorer. In addition to being a compass, it has a LED signal light that lets you flash secret Morse code messages. There is also a flip-out magnifying lens for taking a closer look at nature. This set has a field guide with 6 outdoor missions and an iron on patch for when they are completed.

Backyard Safari is a complete line of outdoor adventure sets. Two of my other favorites are the bird watching and rock collecting sets. There is a lot to learn with these sets – either on your own – or perfect for working with a grandfather. I am always looking for things that grandparents can do with their grandchildren and this line really captured my attention. Kids today seem to have less time to explore and learn about the simple things in life. This line encourages that and will make it fun and exciting. Check them out and if you grandchild likes them build it set by set and make the whole summer a fun nature adventure.

Backyard Safari Outfitters is produced by a relatively new company, Summit Products founded in 1995 so my grandparent readers -  this is a name you may not have looked for before but should definitely be checking out. They are on the Toy Industry Association's Safety Standards & Technical Committee and winners of a bunch of awards. The toys really encourage fun and learning by discovery. These sets are very affordable - they can be bought separately and then added too as interest grows. Have a new one each time your grandchild visits and plan a new activity. Help them collect the whole 20 patch set.

Backyard Safari Outfitters is available at Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble,, and Target.  So no matter where you shop, you'll see at least some of the sets.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Celebrating Turning Two - Stretching It Out and Enjoying the Birthday Celebration All Week

Zach turned two a week ago and we have had a great time celebrating – but most important - so did he. Zach loves to rip the wrapping paper off and enjoy the surprise inside and just watching the smile on his face is a gift to the adults. We like to draw out celebrations in our family so Zach had surprises – all of which he loved that arrived over the course of a week.

First up – we were babysitting when the L.L. Bean backpack – with his initials that his Mom ordered arrived. When his parents came to pick him up they brought the backpack and he was so excited about it. He was in his pajamas - this picture is sooo cute –  he put the backpack on and enjoyed strutting around with it like a "big boy.". And now he can carry his own stuff when he visits and goes to the town pool this summer.

Birthday morning brought more gifts from his parents and two of his favorites are books. Both are flap books – his favorite type – Thomas the Tank Engine’s Hidden Surprises and Seashore Baby. Great choices. He’ll be going to the Jersey Shore for the first time this summer and all of us are looking forward to it. I’ve read both to him at nap time – a favorite activity for Grandma and Zach.

In the afternoon we had a family birthday barbecue at our house and of course more gifts. Zach loves sports and anything with a ball gets lots of play. Aunt Sonny’s (his godmother) gift from “Mom’s recommended gift list” was the Fisher Price basketball set and Zach enjoyed using it for basketball and also as a tee ball set using the bat he got earlier in the week and the base to give a ball a strong whack.

Grandma made the birthday cake and it had Zach’s favorite – strawberries for the filling. Later he sat on Pop’s lap and ate some extra strawberries. What a great day.

Alas, I had ordered our gift – also from “Mom’s recommended list” – late and it did not arrive in time for the party. We decided that he would get this gift after his 2 year old doctor’s visit on Wednesday. The Little Tikes picnic table was yet another hit. On Wednesday it was 98 degrees and so rather than settle on the patio it staid on our air conditioned kitchen. Zach again enjoyed ripping off the paper and helped his Pop put it together – which thankfully was pretty easy to do. We gave him a choice of eating his lunch at the table with us or at his table and he chose his table.

A few days after his birthday, his parent bought Zach a desk with the money he got for his birthday. And he is enjoying that too.

We all enjoyed celebrating and I am a big fan of drawing these celebrations for young children out over time. They can only absorb and enjoy so much at one time. This is a major recommendation from Grandma Marion – don’t give too many gifts to a baby or young child at once. Spread them out and let them savor each one.

Most of all – Enjoy each moment. I know I do.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Favorite Toys for a Dollar

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog but I have a good excuse. A few weeks ago my daughter, Fran, stepped on a rock, fell and fractured her foot. Bummer. Big bummer when you have a little boy who will be 2 years old in a month. Enter Grandma and Pop. During the week we have been helping by having them for lunch and putting Zach down for a nap. Pop takes Zach to gym at the Y and Grandma takes him to swim class.
We will be celebrating Zach turning two this weekend and next week I plan to post about birthday presents but today my topic is favorite toys for a dollar.  We enjoy spoiling our grandson, but we also believe in old fashioned simple fun. And many of my readers are on a limited budget.
Here are some things we have bought at the Dollar Store that Zach loves
Alphabet Puzzle
We knew that Zach knew most of the letters from playing with blocks, but we really didn’t realize that he knew ALL the letters. We gave him a $1 foam alphabet puzzle on Easter Sunday and he promptly removed the letters and in no particular order picked each one up, said what it was and put it back in the right place in the puzzle. He loves playing with this puzzle and it’s wonderful to have this quiet and sedentary thing to do with him.

Baseball Bat and Ball
Zach is a super sports fan and loves all types of ball. When we went to Party City to get paper goods for his birthday party I was taken aback when we went inside the door and he said “Yankees” when he saw a big display of Yankee baseball paper goods. He wants to throw a basketball into the hoop in our driveway but it is not in his reach. Aunt Sonny’s birthday gift is definitely going to be a “slam dunk” – you’ll hear more about that when I write about birthday gifts next week.

Anyway, my husband bought a fat bat and light plastic ball set for $1 at the Dollar Store. Wow! What a winner. Zach again amazed us with his eye hand coordination and "power hitting" ability as he hit that ball and sent it flying. His mother tells us that third grade boys in their neighborhood were showing him how to hit a ball. Well, he’s one fast learner. I can’t wait for tee ball.
Have you ever known a kid who doesn’t like bubbles? Dollar Store has them. Perfect - you can just sit there, blow and and watch a two year old run around. If you are spending extended periods of time with a young child you have to do some things that use their energy without exhausting yours. I consider myself an active grandparent but I do try to pace myself. Bubbles are the perfect summer “grandmother energy stretcher.”

The Dollar Store is a good place to look for some good old fashioned, simple, inexpensive ways to spend time with your grandchild.  I highly recommend it.