The Testers

Number 2* uses Aqua Sand to practice writing letters.

"Number 1 Son" aka Tester #1  is very bright, highly creative, highly energetic, and really really distracted. He can eat lots of different things but eats so little.  He feels superior when he does math and sometimes blows me away when he talks to me.  He seems to be a born physicist.   He can do a million things with just a foot of yarn and you should see the interesting little things he builds with LEGOs.  Some will say he is gifted but this grand thinker can be afraid of the oddest things and is so forgetful that you can draw a trail of where he's been based on all the drawers he's left open around the house.

Everything is interesting to Number 1 Son but few things are interesting enough.  He is a drive-by learner and thinks best when he is moving.  His eyes dart around a room because he must see everything.  For Number 1 Son, information is best digested when it is delivered visually.  Although he is somewhat allergic to school, No. 1 likes school and loves his teachers and his classmates.

"Number 2 Son"  is only mildly allergic to school.  As you can guess, he is younger than Number 1 Son.  He has been in a love affair with numbers since he could speak. You could say he is a human bar code scanner.  His favorite foods are whitish-yellow cheese puffs and yellowish-orange cheese puffs. He abhors fruit and does not know how to swallow the piece of steak he has been chewing in his mouth for five minutes. He is crazy about music.  If people have five senses, then he has a sixth one just for feeling music and not just hearing it.  If he could pay better attention, he would be playing sonatinas by now.  I'm sure of it.

While Number 2 Son's math and reading skills may be ahead of his peers, he, like his brother, Number 1 Son, clearly could use a boost in areas that are less concrete like say... relating to people, especially kids their own age.

Number 1 found this helmet at a thrift store for $4.25!!!  Pictured on the helmet is Zartz from Zing Toys' Air Storm Z Curve Bow

Some people call them special. "Special" because their needs are usually not met in typical settings. Some people call them "Twice-Exceptional" (or 2e) because they feel like their needs are special but then they display gifts that surpass the skills of their peers. Some people say they're just kids and that all kids are like that.

Now that you know them a little, what would you call them?

I say, at least in this space called Toys are Tools, why not just call them Tester #1 and Tester #2?   Somedays you will identify with #1 and on other days, it will be #2 and some other days, maybe you will declare your child to be  #99.  Whoever they are, they are just like all the kids of this world, teaching their parents and teachers about how a person learns and grows. Working with them leaves me feeling so smart when things go well and feeling pathetic and clueless when they don't.  But no matter what happens, like you, I try to show up and be present.

The one thing I have learned is that there are tools at my disposal.  They have been there all along and I just didn't realize that they are part of my parenting toolbox. The potential of these toys and gadgets are so exciting that embarrassingly enough, I can't seem to shut-up when I want to share the news and ideas about them with other parents and teachers.

Readers should also know that they will likely be reading only positive reviews mostly because I don't believe we have time to read negative reviews.  There is just so much out there.  Each toy has a purpose that carry real benefits like learning, motivating, raising self-esteem, and helping children make friends.  The possibilities are endless.

Happy shopping everyone!

update: 11/2016  Tester #1 is twelve and Tester #2 is nine!

The other testers who are not Jenn's children: Updated: 3/12/14

Number 3
She is a 15 year old high school sophomore who has been a big sister, tutor, and role model to Numbers 1 and 2 for the past three years.   Her strengths lie in dramatic arts, reading, building, and writing.   She is first mentioned in a post about robot play and because she is an important influence to Numbers 1 and 2, her ideas will often be represented here.   Please note that Toys are Tools generally doesn't not review toys for kids older than 12 however, Number 3's opinion as a former tween are very valuable and is a great advisor to Jenn. update 11/2016  #3 is now 18 so she's kinda retired. 

Number 4 (There is no Tester #4. Jenn is superstitious.)

Number 5 
She is a 10-year-old 5th grader who actually doesn't know the other testers at all.   She is a fun-loving kid who loves to play with her Monster High dolls (she has about twenty).  However interestingly enough, she doesn't do pretend play with these dolls.  Nope, she has an artsy side to her.  She is a stylist inside and will often be seen dressing and creating a new hairstyle for her dolls. 

She also loves to read.  Her favorite books are Harry Potter and her favorite among them is Chamber of Secrets.  She is very social and has 6 other BFFs she rolls with.  She has a successful life academically too.  Number 5 has lots of great traits and if perhaps there is something that maybe her mom would like to see less of in her is Number 5's badgering and begging to have her way which her mom is often told could be a good thing because it can be transformed into qualities in persistence. 

Number 5's mom is my friend who makes me laugh whenever I talk to her.  I think she's an excellent and very thoughtful mother. I admire how she really thinks beyond grades and is mindful of how her daughter experiences the world.      The kind of toys she seeks for her daughter are those that will really engage her.  When possible, she'll avoid toys that are "too one-note."   Like many readers here, she buys many of her toys online.  Update: 11/2016 She's become an amazing artist and designer but doesn't have so much time for toys now that she's in 8th grade but Jenn is still trying!


Number 6
retired. We miss you!

Number 7 (updated 11/2014) is eight years old but he reads books meant for kids four years his senior.  He is big on coding and is currently consuming knowledge in programming languages such as Scratch, Python, Java. He loves to read and play strategy games.

Number 8 (updated 11/2014) is Number 7's little bro.  Even though he is only a wee kindergartener, he is super big on logic games and creating sculptures using blocks.  While he is not big on tedious work, we do find him to be a very interested learner who is constantly seeking out new discoveries.

Number 9
update 11/2016
A bubbly young lady of 7, a 2nd grader, she is super creative and wants to do everything all by herself. She is a maker kid who loves to sew, create puppet theater and play with LEGO.  She tests many of our STEM toys here, not just the ones for girls but she's become a real expert on those. Her time is very tied up. Jenn usually has to make a special plea to get her to test toys.
Number 10
update 11/2016
is in 4th grade. #2 and #10 are the very best of friends. He's very good with LEGOs. After he builds, like #2, he doesn't not like to dismantle.  He's got quite an encyclopedic brain too.  He knows lots of facts and he's a big reader.  He's been testing for TAT along with his little sis ( #9)

*Number 2 Son used to hate the feeling of sand on his skin, especially his fingers and feet.  This product, called Aqua Sand allows him to explore it in a non-threatening way and it is great to play with other kids.  It is meant to be used in a clear bowl where the sand molds together underwater and then can be gently sculpted.  We did things a little differently here.  Here he is trying to write letters in the sand with his fingers (success!).  Too bad it is all over my floor.  I wish he could clean it all up by himself but alas, I have to do that part but it is worth it.