Friday, July 11, 2014

Review + Giant Giveaway: The Best Toys of Summer 2014

Looking for summer toys? We got you covered. Testers 1 + 2

WHAT: Preventing the Summer Slide- a follow up to my story at
DOES: More photos, ideas, and fun facts about my favorite top ten summer favorites.
$3 and up
AGES: these vary by product
GIVEAWAY PRIZE: One person will win pretty much everything mentioned here. I think its worth over $400... have to add that up soon.

BEFORE you read this, make sure you read my top ten list at  I hope you come back because in this post, I'll be offering you more photos and commentary to help you make your picks this summer.

Do you believe that there exists something called the "Summer Slide?"  I wonder how real this problem is and what can be done about it.

All I know is that come September, I ask my eldest this question, "So what did you learn in school today?"  It's a typical September question, no? His response is also typical.  "We just review.  We are just reviewing this month."

This brings lots of questions to my head.

Are we really supposed to give kids 10-12 weeks off every summer?
Are average parents equipped to prevent kids from regressing during the summer months?
What is gained by children in the summer?
Are those gains, if any, worth the risk of allowing for an academic-free summer "vacation"?
Do parents ever use the summer to cement the learning that took place in the school year?
Why aren't standardized test scores ever used to help kids use the summer to catch up to their peers?
If kids are assigned summer homework, should the "review" part that takes at the beginning of the school year be taken out of the curriculum?

I hope you liked the article in Forbes.  It took months and months of serious research and serious play to get you these findings.  I hope there is something in this list for everyone whether your budgets is in the tens or the hundreds.  These have been an absolute thrill to the kids.  I am extremely grateful for all the manufacturers for pitching in a giveaway product for the big summer giveaway of the year!

Summer is for Engineering:
  1. Air + Water Power Plus: ($89.95) (Ages: 8+)

    On top of what I said about this at Forbes, I'd like to give one piece of advice.  You may find saying out loud, Air-Plus-Water-Power-Plus to be somewhat harder to roll off the tongue. However, consider the other option "
    Pneumatic-Hydraulic Engines-Deluxe"  Both might be hard to say but that is exactly what it is.  What I like most about this set is how it opens your eyes to see how prevalent this type of mechanics is in our everyday lives. There are tons of possibilities beyond the 60 pages of pictorial directions in color.  Thirty building ideas are provided but their favorite will likely be the air powered cars or the double tank water gun.
  2. Red Toolbox and 6 Piece Tool Set: (Ages: 8+)  ($49.99)
    The giveaway from Red Toolbox is the toolset, box, and DIY set of your choice under $25.

    This set is very similar to a set that I reviewed in 2012.  Number 7 had a great time showing his skills to his dad who trained as a mechanical engineer. 
    David Wells, Manager, Creative Making and Learning, New York Hall of Science, who embodies my definition of a super teacher thought that the Red Toolbox kit had seen these tools and liked how it helped parents good tools for kids.  I think the saw and hammer is pretty nifty and will be the best bang for the buck.  You will likely have a hard time buying a saw for a kid anywhere.
  3. Paper Engineering

    A paper crane flies with us during our vacation on Virginia Beach.

    This is actually a mobius strip made unintentionally by me!
    Perfectly stashed away in our car for trips short and long.
    Pictured: 192 Paper Strips Sold at Red Hen Toys.  Weaving is big with OT's    Check out this other product if you are interested this OT's weaving toy.
    My age recommendation: 7+

    This year, I have discovered paper!  It is the best!  It's eco-friendly, lightweight, resusable, and disposable (guilt free).  Yet, it is great for kids who love to design and build.  I like to make mine 3D but kids may prefer to make 2D collages.  It doesn't matter. Just get a scissor and glue dots and you are set!

  4. Create Your Own Pop-Up Books (Ages: 5+) ($19.99) 

    Seriously, you will not find many products like this at this price.  A make your own book  kit is becoming a lost art.  But really, the simplicity of this kit as well as the fact that everything you need, comes in this box is just incredible.   Want more inspiration?  Check out this video.

    Smart Minds Control Smart Bodies
  5. POOF Strato-Slam Rocket Battle Blast : (Ages: 5+) ($36.99)

    Two feet, one on each blaster?  Yeah, of course he did.  But it's more fun when he does this with his little brother.

    Say you stomped and shot your rocket and then you caught your rocket.  What are the chances that you will look at your friend, the minute you catch it?  This moment not only defines the concept of "joint attention" but it captures just how important it is. In my gif photo and video, you will see my son looking at me (holding the camera) because he wants to share the moment. This concept of "shared attention" is not about being able to learn with a group, it is about being able to enjoy learning with a group.

  6. ALEX TOYS Gigantic Racket Set: (Ages: 3+) ($19.95) (I would aim higher for age... 5+ maybe?)
    In the post, I explained how racquet games really require your full attention and participation.  Your whole body has to "be present."

    Anyone sending their kids to tennis camp this summer?  I am not.  Two summers at the Frank Brennan Tennis Academy are memories that remind me that I have zero skill in this sport.  But seriously, if you look at the pictures above you will know that there is great pleasure when two people hit a ball back and forth. I love how this product is very affordable, very lightweight, and most importantly, very playable.  As much as I love tennis.  It's very hard for kids to get a volley going if they haven't had a lesson.  This toy keeps things light and easy. I love that.
  7. Phlat Ball : (Ages: 8+) ($17.99)
    I love that shade of purple.  

    It's not  a big ball but it is designed to help you make it soar.
    Wow, it looks like a fish!

    I love how you can shmush this and make it into a totally different shape.  That is just crazy to me.   Really though, it is fun to have something familiar in a totally different way. 

    Games On The Go
  8. Rory's Story Cubes- Voyages: ($7.99)  (Ages 8+)

    A teacher I greatly respect, Barbara Bolich, the resource room teacher at Jefferson Elementary in Spokane, Washington was very interested in this idea of using dice to tell stores. "There are not enough hours in the day for kids to create story, and a game centered on that would help families too."  I think Ms. B definitely knows what she is talking about because my husband is not big on words but likes dice and card games (he's a Wall Street guy, surprised?)  He knew right away how to model good storytelling and made our really awful museum cafeteria lunch bearable that day.
  9. Ani-gram-it Card Game: ($19.99)(8+)

    I took this picture myself at the aquarium at Virginia Beach. I had played Ani-gram-it right before going to the aquarium and it helped us look at the sea creatures in a whole new light. This is a fiddler crab.  I couldn't believe my eyes.

    This game can be played various ways but really, LOOK at the color!!!!!!!!!!  These photographs are amazing!   I absolutely love it. My favorite way to play is to just sort them all out so you can see all the different kind of limbs, fins, ears, ... it's a lesson in diversity -biodiversity!  I can't wait to see the set that includes real wood blocks.  That sounds like an excellent Xmas gift for animal lovers.  Check out their super cool app: ferret at the Apple Appstore
  10. Spot It!: ($13.99) 

    How is this game possible?  What is the mathematical equation that allows for any two card to have only one image common - always?  It is a mystery or perhaps it is not because this whole game seems so simple.  Perhaps that is why it is so fun.  Now that I have the original Spot It!, I can understand why there have been so many different themes offered to players.  It is clean and wholesome fun of the very addictive variety.

And NOW.......

USE Rafflecopter to Enter This Amazing Contest to Win Top Summer Toys and Games Package

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure:  Toys are Tools was not compensated by the manufacturers of anything mentioned here for the publication of this review.  The reviewed items were provided to Toys are Tools to facilitate a review.  Reviews are never promised. 




  1. I like to give my kids a structure break, not huge, in the summer. Stay an while if your having fun! Im a stay at home grandma though and I can see a reason to keep structure if the parent has to work.

  2. I think with technology these days that the summer slide is lower then years past. I do believe in summer vacation because making memories, summer exploration and family are important too. I'm a grandma now and my kids tell me that some of their best memories are of family vacations or summer happenings.

  3. My grandkids summer vacation is 10 weeks which is enough time to be out of school. I think a little structure helps but also time to be spontaneous or go with the flow is a way to avoid stress. I have had my grandkids go to summer camps for at least 1-3 weeks of the summer for that structure and the remainder of the time get spent seeing cousins, grandparents and many lake activities.

  4. I'm somewhat torn about summer vacation. Having kids with special needs, I know there is a definite loss of academic skills over the summer. However, the break over the summer gives us so much time to do the things they really love and need to do to be healthy human beings. The kinds of activities you posted are great examples of creative summer play. Thanks for the ideas, I'm looking forward to checking them out some more.

  5. I'm trying hard this summer to balance summer camp experiences with lots of free time that the kids have to figure out how to fill. It can be really challenging for one of them in particular. My kids need structure around the schedule of the day, ie get dressed, eat meals, bathe, go to bed but aside from that I think it is important for them to push through boredom and figure out what to do.

  6. Our kids aren't in school yet, so it's hard to tell about the summer slide. Easy to believe that such a change for 3 months would cause a lot of school material to be forgotten.

  7. I think summer is a great time to do something more in depth than one can during the school year. Just the opportunity to try out a variety of things, travel, see family, etc.

  8. While i do believe in the summer slide since it sounds so logical i have no experience with it personally. my kiddo is about to start kinder so we shall see from there what happens

  9. Summer for me is play time! Live each day with happiness since there will be plenty of time in the future for work and more so right now we just need to cherish the time together and play!

  10. I think of course there is a summer slide you know when you dont practice what you learn you loose information!

  11. I think summer vacation should be 1 to 1.5 months like a large break I have always been a fan of year round school. Our summers are structured even our vacations involve learning we went to Mammoth Caves and Dino world.

  12. Family travels are always good and memorable.

  13. It all depends on the kid.

  14. I think the ideal for my kids is the have down time so that they are eager to get back to school. Unstructured time is necessary but not all summer. My kids get one month off for summer break.

  15. Yes, the Summer Slide is real if my kids don't read or work math games during the summer. They can jump back when they get back to school pretty quickly.

  16. I feel that kids need a break, but there should be some academic activities going on during the summer. We basically have 2 1/2 months off, so that is plenty of time for families to learn and experience things together.

  17. I have never minded having school out for the summer. When my kids were young the school they were in was one of the first ones to go to year round school and I did not like it at all. I had 4 kids in school and they were never on the same tracks so you couldn't plan for a vacation. When they dumped year round and they went back to traditional I just always made sure part of their summer was scheduled with sports or a learning camp. It worked out fine for me

  18. I agree with another person who commented, the academic slide is much more worrisome. It is up to the parents to take responsibility for their kids and make sure they are engaged in, and have many learning opportunities.

  19. Structured time has benefits - teaching kids to handle themselves in a structure, for one. Enabling products that can be compared on similar criteria, and allowing kids to feel the rush of competition when they are equally matched.. but I am not a big fan. We don't find a lot of true peers and we also really value differences and unique interpretations that lead to building knowledge sets that are pliable and resilient. So - freerange. There will be plenty of time for blending in later.

  20. Yes and no. Based on the way most schools teach, it's very likely that many students need to review all month long when they get back. However, since we homeschool all year long, we do not have that issue. We teach in a way that promotes natural learning, so that my children retain most of what they learn.

  21. Summer vacation is perfect for kids in school because they need a break from sitting in a desk all day. We benefit from being homeschooled by being able to take our lessons with us to the park, beach, wherever.

  22. Here at home we have....reading time daily. They read on their own and I read aloud to them. Then they have to have "brain time" which can consist of playing anything outside or doing something involving the many games/toys we have inside. It can be anything from trampoline time, legos, cleaning the reptiles cages, marble mazes, etc.

  23. I see summer slide in my kids but given my oldest's struggles in school behaviorally it was recommended we have him keep a journal. We do this every summer now and it helps. He also loves summer reading at the library and we try to go every week to get a new bag if books for him. We have found that structures is best for our oldest. When we relax he tends to have more behavior problems but if we stuck to routines he is better. It's hard because we also want him to enjoy the pool and other summer activities. We also have two camps this year - one very structured and another less so - with a week away in between. We will see how he handles it.

  24. 1, 4, 5, and 7! Not sure about pop up book, T is so hard on himself when it comes to drawing, but the water and air are a def yes!

  25. camp camp camp! Structured but ONLY with the things he loves... FOund a perfect camp for ADHD kiddo, no art or music, all swimming, martial arts and games...

  26. My kids are young, but it can definitely be difficult to maintain new skills (particularly math) if not using them regularly, and Summer can be such a crazy time with vacations, visits, and not as much structure.

  27. I think semi-structured is ideal for kids (year round!). My kids are in Montessori and we really enjoy encouraging them to learn about the things that THEY are interested in, rather than a set, straight curriculum. It makes it easy to carry over into the Summer too, because we can work simple math games into our daily activities, and practice reading as we learn about the places we visit and the events we participate in.

  28. I think kids need a healthy mix of everything over the summer. Its is a great time to read longer chapter books (i like to have the kids swing while I read) and do fun science experiments.

  29. Mom,s play an important role during the summer vacation with the kids because kids want to take attention of the parents during the vacation specially mom attention is very helpful during the travelling or go for tour bus from new york to indianapolis..