Monday, December 31, 2012

Hoping Shopping Will Get Easier in 2013

Happy New Year Everyone!!!!

It only took 14 months but I finally figured out a way to organize the toys I've reviewed AND create an Amazon store.  I know it is not perfect but it has been really hard to figure out how to categorize things in a neat and efficient way.

Additionally, I felt that since there are so many Amazon users, that you might find it easier to shop this way.

Two things you want to know.

1- Most of the items here have been reviewed by me.  Additionally, some have been played with by the testers and just not formally reviewed.  (Thoughtful reviews take a while, sorry).

2- If a product is there and you don't see a review for it in Toys are Tools, then just know that it is a product in my list of products that answers the question: "If I could buy any toy in the world (of Amazon), what would you buy?"

To be sure, this store will grow!!!!  I will keep looking for more cool things and I will try my best to start filling in the blanks with more comments but if you have a question about a product in my store, I will do my best to answer your question.  Drop me a note at 

toysaretools at gmail dot com   and send me a link of the product in which you are referring.

Most importantly, 

Thank you so much for shopping through my link!!!  

I am grateful to you whether you bought a Kindle or a 99 cent app.  The point is that you cared to shop through my link.  I was floored!  Thanks to you all, I was able to hold my head up this holiday season in front of my family! I have had to ignore the bit of teasing from my big brother who thinks I spend way too much time on Toys are Tools (kind of true but thoughtful reviews don't write themselves...).  But I truly believe that there are many of us out there who want more for our children (and our money), so please like this page, spread the word.   It's okay if there aren't millions of readers but as long as those who drop by find the information useful, this writer can post another review of another fabulous toy that may have missed your attention.  There is so much out there and they're so wonderful.... sometimes I just want to sit and look at them!

Hope the new year brings you and your family plenty of opportunities for play and good times. 

Please bookmark the store link and thanks for your support!

And if you choose to support your neighborhood toy store instead, just want to say... I think what you're doing is smart and wonderful

Ten thousand blessings of happiness and fortune,

Jenn Choi

p.s.  our store is already being renovated!  you'll see it being a bit different from the photo above but it will be bigger than this for sure.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review and Giveaway: The New Sifteo Cubes: Get the Gift You Really Wanted

Sifteos: It helps us to think through, and to problem solve, essentially at a higher level - Dr. Gayle Herman, Child Psychologist  photo: Sifteo

WHAT: The New Sifteo Cubes

DOES: The closest that any video game has ever come to TRUE multi-sensory fun and learning.  
INVEST: MSRP  $129.95
TOOLS:  Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, My Body Needs to Move, Holiday/Birthday Build-Uponner, Flexibility is My Superpower, Foment the Love of Language
AGES: 8+  (our 5-year-old plays with them too but most games are for 7+ so far)
EXPERT OPINION: Dr. Gayle Herman, Child Psychologist
GIVEAWAY: one whole set shipped to you (U.S. only) DETAILS BELOW 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Lose the Battle, Win the War: Sometimes You Have to Give In

Yes, if you saw a disheveled Asian American woman giftwrapping a DS cartridge in the middle of Game Stop late Christmas Eve, that was me.   I can recommend toys to all but my own kids?  Ha! I am the worst mom ever!

If any of you are depressed because you are looking at your kids clutching their new tablets and ignoring the "smart" toysgames you gave them, I have something to say. You are not alone. I am just as sad as you and probably, because of my job, a little embarrassed too.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Review: Last Minute Gift Idea: Yahtzee Flash

They are portable!  All you need is a flat surface! 

WHAT: Last minute gift idea if you live near Toys R Us
 Yahtzee Flash from Hasbro

DOES:  If you are familiar with Poker or Yamslam type of games, Yahtzee Flash can be a treat.  It's portable too.
INVEST: MSRP Set $29.99 (have seen it on sale at many places- at time of posting Amazon is selling for $8.73)
AGES: 8 and up (my five year old played with it because he learned how to play Yamslam)
TOOLS: Lose and Win Gracefully, Math is Everywhere

Review: Magformers 30 Piece Classic Set: Building with Ease is Relaxing

This needs a little bit more pieces than what the classic set offers, that's why we bought two sets.
WHAT: Last minute gift idea if you live near cool toy stores
 Magformers 30 piece Classic Set from Rainbow Products
DOES:  very easy to use and build with these magnetic shapes.  learn geometry and get a sense of measurement through uniformity of shapes and sizes, attractive colors and uniquely satisfying building experience
INVEST: MSRP Set $49.99
AGES: 6 and up  (five year olds have played with it too)
TOOLS:  My Body Needs to Move, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Holiday/Birthday Build-Uponner 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Review and Giveaway: Red Toolbox Tools and Treasure Chest: Learning to Make or Making to Learn?

photos above: Reeves International 

WHAT: Eight-Piece Toolset and Treasure Chest Kit from Red Toolbox (Reeves International)
DOES:  REAL tools designed for younger makers.  Kids making functional things or art with their own hands is rare these days but it's a powerful method of learning and building confidence
INVEST: MSRP Set $39.99, Kit $14.99
AGES: 8 and up
TOOLS:  My Body Needs to Move, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Holiday/Birthday Build-Uponner 
EXPERT OPINION: David Wells, Manager, Creative Making and Learning, New York Hall of Science
GIVEAWAY: (Total Value $65) Win a Toolbox + Six Piece Toolset and Treasure Chest Kit

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Review + Giveaway: Morphology Jr.: Flexibility is My Superpower

Using these pieces, you must provide clues to your partner to guess the word you've been given.   It's crazy fun! photo: Morphology Games

DOES:  one of the smartest games ever invented-period.
INVEST:  $29.99 MSRP  
AGES: 8+ (box says 4 or more players but we have done 2 players EZ)
TOOLS:  Express Yourself, Flexibility is My Superpower, Foment Love of Language, My Body Needs to Move, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer
EXPERT OPINION: Susan Schwartz, MAEd, Learning Specialist, Friends Seminary
GIVEAWAY Details Below:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Seeds for the Birds: Savvy on Social Needs of Preschoolers

One lesson from a "cooperative game":  It sucks to get caught cheating "for the team." I think kids can sense that it is worse than being caught cheating for just yourself.  photo: Peaceable Kingdom

DOES:  great "first game" experience for little ones; an educational game that helps kids practice cooperation,good game-play manners,  encourages conversation, and invites strategic thinking if you're ready!
INVEST:  $15.99 MSRP  
AGES: 3+ (we've played successfully with an 8 year old too)
TOOLS:  Fertilize Responsibility and Courtesy, Lose and Win Gracefully, Social Scene Helper, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer 
GIVEAWAY Details Below:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Best Toys and Games 2012 Holiday List and $50 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway! Just Vote! (Closed)

I never thought I'd write this post.  The whole idea of Toys are Tools is to show that all children are different and so what would be a great educational toy for one child may not be great for another.  That is one reason why we have 7 kid testers ranging from ages 3-13. 

But alas, I admit that having a shortlist can be helpful. Thus, I've created a list of educational toys and skill-building games that left a strong impression this year. Most of these toys will be from 2012 but some may have peeked their heads earlier. It's my first full year writing toy reviews so I think I'll get away with it just this one time.

One thing that is abundantly clear, the readers here are very passionate about toys and so I am hoping that through this "Best Of" list, everyone's voices will be heard.  But I'll provide a delectable incentive for your time.  So please have some fun and vote for your favorite toy or game of the year!  The winner will take up a cozy spot on the right hand column of Toys are Tools for the entire year of 2013.   And the coolest part?  One winner will get a $50 dollar Amazon gift certificate. If you win, you have to promise me that you will spend it on you. No toys for the kids, okay? What are you waiting for?  Read on and VOTE! 

Best Toys and Games of 2012 Holiday List

Friday, December 7, 2012

Excited About:New Sifteo (and a Coupon Code)

WHAT: Sifteo
DOES: things that we haven't even imagined yet; learning component is strengthened because of the bilateral coordination and kinesthetic appeal (English: using both hands, fingers, and arms in a way never done before in gaming is exhilarating) 
INVEST: MSRP  $129.95 for initial set which include three cubes, additional is 29.95

TOOLS:   will be named during a more in depth review
AGES: 7+  (will try to use Gen 2 Sifteos with younger kids for our upcoming review)
See Coupon Code Just for TAT readers below:

I hate to make you all wait for a review on this because this is the season to be buying things and for the past couple of weeks, I have been presenting gifts to children that sort of mesh with the whole family.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Cart Before the Horse: "Control Your Mental Effort"

"You have to control your mental effort," said one of Susan's students about Cart Before the Horse.

WHAT: Cart Before the Horse by Mindware
DOES: allows you to work on skills including: working memory, following directions, spatial reasoning; excellent bonding activity with child
INVEST: MSRP  $17.95 
TOOLS:  Think Like a Scientist/Engineer (super visual-spatial), Lose and Win Gracefully - this one player game can be played with friends too, Remember to Learn, Foment Love of Language
AGES: 8+  (younger kids can definitely enjoy this too)
EXPERT OPINION: Susan Schwartz, MAEd, Learning Specialist, Friends Seminary

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Community: Leadership Training for Kids

There is a reason why colleges look for community service in prospective applicants.  Knowledge about one's community's needs is essential to good leadership.

WHAT: Community by eeBoo
DOES:  practice being part of a team,  practice being a leader and being supportive, practice problem solving as a group and individually, play a game where there are no "losers"
INVEST:  $19.99 MSRP  
AGES: 5+ (we've played successfully with a four-year old)
TOOLS:  Fertilize Responsibility and Courtesy, Flexibility is My Superpower, Lose and Win Gracefully, People are People, Social Scene Helper, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer 
EXPERT OPINION: Alison Berkley, Co-owner, Special Education Teacher, Emerge and See Education Center, Blogger, Breaking Barriers at Psychology Today
GIVEAWAY Details Below:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Plus-Plus: A Natural Way of Learning

Are you in love or what?   photo: Geared for Imagination

 Plus-Plus from Geared For Imagination

DOES:  opportunity to practice bilateral coordination, creative building in both 2D and 3D, calming little building blocks, a great example of how one shape can do so many things
INVEST:  $9.99; $19.99; $34.99; $59.99 MSRP  (sizes in pieces: 100, 300, 600, 1200)
AGES: 3 and up
TOOLS:  My Body Needs to Move, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Social Scene Helper, Express Yourself, Holiday/Birthday Build-Uponner 
EXPERT OPINION: David Wells, Manager, Creative Making and Learning, New York Hall of Science
GIVEAWAY: Win a 600-piece Plus-Plus package in Basic or Neon Colors!  You decide! 
SEE SPECIAL SALE just for us below!!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Z-X Crossbow Supports Fine Motor Skills? YES WAY!

How does this lead to supporting fine motor control?  Is this for real?

Air Storm Z-X Crossbow by Zing Toys

DOES:  opportunity to practice bilateral coordination and crossing the midline
INVEST:  $19.99 MSRP
AGES: 8 and up (successfully done with younger child with some guidance) 
TOOLS:  My Body Needs to Move, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Social Scene Helper (sports played along among like-minded folks help ease social setting), Lose and Win Gracefully
EXPERT OPINION: Aimee Prainito,Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Prainito Pediatric Therapy 
GIVEAWAY: Win the Z-X Crossbow!  It's the easiest of the three (Z Curve and Zip Bak)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thank You Letter & Giveaway: Balloons Over Broadway Lifts Up Young Inventors' Spirits

I feel like she wrote this just my children (and yours).  It's a story of creative problem-solving by a born-maker.  photo: Melissa Sweet

Balloons over Broadway, a book by Melissa Sweet

DOES: Use this book to inspire your child's inventor qualities and aspirations, demonstrate problem-solving feats in a historical context, talk about machines in a storybook for kids 
INVEST: MSRP  $16.99
TOOLS:  Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, 
Flexibility is My Superpower, Inventor Profiles, Holiday/Birthday Build-Uponner (this could be a GREAT present to go along with a building kit for the holidays- will add sincerity and depth to your gift!)
AGES:  oh..probably somewhere in between 3-99
GIVEAWAY: 2 copies of Melissa Sweet's book DETAILS BELOW  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Double Shutter: The Anatomy of an Addictive Game

Just as in life, you can't control the hand you've been dealt but you can control the decisions you make.   Double Shutter is totally AWESOME!

WHAT: Double Shutter by Blue Orange Games
DOES: an educational game that gives practice in risk analysis, encourages you to leave as many possibilities open so you can keep on playing, less confrontational than other games and yet still competitive, can be played solo and with friends
Lose and Win Gracefully, Math is Everywhere (new), Social Scene Helper
AGES: 8+  (kids as young as 5 have enjoyed this game, need to understand basic addition though)
EXPERT OPINION: Kerry Kappell, Gold Life Master, Certified Bridge Director, ACBL Accredited Bridge Teacher, Manhattan Bridge Club

Friday, November 16, 2012

Review & Giveaway: SmartMax Power Vehicles: Stocking Stuffers or Holiday Build-Uponners? You Decide

Is this not the cutest thing ever or what?  The Bulldozer and other Power Vehicles are a steal at $10.99 each.  photo: SmartMax

WHAT: SmartMax Power Vehicles by Smart Toys and Games  (Bulldozer, Lift and Ladder, Pick-Up)
DOES: Unique click-on wheels and attachments to make your own vehicle.  Mix and match between the three for more open ended play; appeals to many ages; excellent way to try out SmartMax toys without feeling burdened to buy a thousand blocks. 
INVEST: MSRP  $10.99 each  That's it!  Wow!
Express Yourself, Holiday/Birthday Build-Uponner, More Make-Believe Please
AGES: 3+  
GIVEAWAY: Two SmartMax Power Vehicles- Your choice!
FREE GAMES:  See below for news on just-launched to try SmartGames for free!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review & Giveaway ($240 total value): Coerceo: Strategy Gaming - Gangnam Style? YES!

All of these skills are precursor life skills and I think Coerceo is great because you can make it as hard as you want - Susan Schwartz, Learning Specialist   photo: Coerceo

WHAT: Coerceo  (Mensa-Select 2012 winner, strategy game)
DOES: Encourages creative problem solving as well as planning ahead;  this game is in the caliber of fine wine and cheese, you won't play it everyday but it will always be special when you doINVEST: MSRP  $50 approx. (in US dollars) (39.95 Euro); Luxury Version (attractive wooden box; 69 Euro- $87 US approx.) 
TOOLS:  Think Like a Scientist/Engineer (super visual-spatial), Lose and Win Gracefully - you won't mind losing to masters, Flexibility is My Superpower
AGES: 7+  (may possibly go younger but haven't tried yet)
EXPERT OPINION: Susan Schwartz, MAEd, Learning Specialist, Friends Seminary
GIVEAWAY: 1 Luxury Version of Coerceo and 3 Standard Versions of Coerceo (Overall total value= $240 approx.)  DETAILS BELOW  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Zingo! Sight Words: Learning is Easy When It's Fun!

"Zingo is amazing!" said Alison Berkley, one of my fave education experts and co-owner of Emerge and See Education Center

WHAT: Zingo! Sight Words by ThinkFun
DOES:  Third rendition of the popular Zingo! game; Uses nifty tile release gadget, colorful boards, fun themes to encourage and improve sight word recognition
INVEST: MSRP  $19.99
Fertilize Responsibility and Courtesy, Foment Love of Language, Lose and Win Gracefully, Remember to Learn
AGES: PreK- Grade 1  (Read how we've made it easier and harder!)
EXPERT OPINION: Alison Berkley, Co-owner, Special Education Teacher, Emerge and See Education Center

Monday, November 5, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Geomag Glow Moon Explorer: High Quality Toys Teach Kids to Shop Smart

He said this shape looked like one of his favorite logic puzzles and was amazed that it was originally a simple pentagon.

WHAT: Glow Moon Explorer by Geomag
DOES: great open-ended magnetic building block vehicle that doesn't obligate you to buy more pieces. (It's a mindset that can be achieved!); can be used as a low-key introduction to Geomag toys
INVEST:  $25.50 MSRP
TOOLS:  Express Yourself, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Holiday/Birthday Build-Uponner
AGES: 5+  ( I agree with this age rec; more fine motor stability required to build)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Workbooks: Parental Relief for Hurricanes and Other Emergency No School Days

This is a big chunk of our collection.  Sometimes it's great to use a book instead of printing free sheets from the internet because I am not as smart as those mothers that know all the good free websites.  Keep forgetting to bookmark them!

Workbooks from School Zone, Flash Kids, Scholastic
DOES: provides some much needed structure on emergency-no school days
INVEST:  $3 or $4 and above  (varies depending on retailer)
TOOLS:  Family Fix-it, Work Experience (you can still play but workbooks give them time to collect themselves and strangely prevents boredom and appreciate any kind of recreation more - including board games!
AGES: 3+ (depending on workbook)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday MindFeed: A Year of Toys as Tools

Found this photo from ""  Joshua Baskin, Tom Hanks character says, "I don't get it."  A robot that turns into a building?  Well, what's fun about that?

Today is October 27, 2012.  Where was this website one year ago?  Basically, it had not been "born" yet.  But in a few days, Toys are Tools will celebrate its one-year birthday!   I have a big story planned for that day.  It's something you'll want to have in your family for generations!

First, please let me thank you from the bottom of my heart.  The fact that anyone is interested in what I have to say still amazes me.   (You should see how ignored I am in my own home!)  But seriously, with the one year anniversary of Toys are Tools coming, I thought it might be nice to share with you what I've learned.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Nanoblock Musical Instruments: Good Things Come in Small Packages

There are four instruments in this review.  Which one is your favorite?  photo: Nanoblock
photo: Nanoblock
photo: Nanoblock
photo: Nanoblock

DOES: educational toy: teeny tiny building blocks used to create miniature models of instruments;  pretty as one but incredibly beautiful as a set; no need to buy any living room art anymore
INVEST:  $12.99 MSRP for each instrument (drums, violin, piano, electric guitar)
TOOLS:  Express Yourself, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Holiday/Birthday Build-Uponner
AGES: 8+ (I have not tried with younger ages and hesitate to do so)
GIVEAWAY (over $50 value): One of each of the four GORGEOUS instruments featured here (four toys total for one winner).  Prize Ships to U.S. Only DETAILS BELOW  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Jeliku? Jeli-Cool? Jeli-Cute? Jeli-Creative? There Are NO Wrong Answers! ($225 Giveaway Value)

Believe it or not, this is made of five separate multicolored folding puzzles. Five lucky winners will have it shipped free to their home.  This is our first holiday feature story.  Thank you Kris Kringle!  photo:

WHAT: Jeliku by
DOES: Use unique folding structure to make a million things;  Fun as one or fun as multiples; Intriguing pretend play toy; Satisfying Fidget; Very Portable; Lightweight but sturdy 
INVEST: MSRP  $5-7 for Version 1 of Jeliku; $8-10 Version 2 of Jeliku
TOOLS:  Express Yourself, More Make-Believe Please, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Holiday/Birthday Build-Uponner
AGES: 3+ 
GIVEAWAY: 5 Jeliku "Pentagon" (each box of one Pentagon is a $45 value: 5 Jeliku Puzzles Are Folded into One Pentagon) complete with its own case.  (U.S. giveaway only)  A $225 total value!!!!  DETAILS BELOW