Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The SV Toddler Holiday Planner (2018)

** Saturday 12/8 edit: Don't miss today's Green Toys Deal of the Day! Some of the best prices I've ever seen on some of our very favorite toys! Enjoy!! **

Here we go again! The holidays are officially here, with countless opportunities for merriment, frivolity, and general goodwill, and it's my goal to capture them all in this SIXTH (!!) Annual SV Toddler Holiday Planner!

This is very much a work in progress, but I wanted to get it published ASAP because the fun begins tomorrow, with construction of the largest Lego Menorah in California! Please check back frequently for updates -- I'll be adding to this every day, and fleshing out later weeks in the month as we move along.

By all means, please share with friends, family, moms' groups, etc. -- the more people who see this, the more I feel that my efforts are worthwhile.

Finally, as you do your shopping this holiday season -- and anytime of year! -- please check out my posts with book and toy ideas and emergency prep tips here on the blog and on my Facebook Page. You can also head to Amazon for all your shopping needs via this affiliate link. Thanks for your support!

And here we go!

Ongoing Events

  • Christmas in the Park, Plaza de Cesar Chavez, San Jose. Daily through December 25th, 9 a.m. - Midnight. Check calendar for specific events. Free.
  • Winterfest, Great America, Santa Clara. Specific dates through December 31st. Check link for details. 
  • Gardens @ Night Holiday, Gilroy Gardens. Specific dates through December 31st. Check link for details. 
  • Fantasy of Lights, Vasona Park, Los Gatos. Walk-thru December 1st and 2nd. Drive-thru most dates from December 4th through December 30th. See link for details. 

Wednesday, November 28th
  • Build a Lego Menorah (the largest in CA!), APJCC, Los Gatos. 4:30 - 6:30 p.m. Free, but registration is required. 

Thursday, November 29th

Friday, November 30th

Saturday, December 1st

Sunday, December 2nd

Monday, December 3rd

Tuesday, December 4th

Wednesday, December 5th

Thursday, December 6th

Friday, December 7th

Saturday, December 8th

Sunday, December 9th

Monday, December 10th

Tuesday, December 11th

Wednesday, December 12th

Thursday, December 13th

Friday, December 14th

Saturday, December 15th

Sunday, December 16th

Monday, December 17th

Tuesday, December 18th

Wednesday, December 19th

Thursday, December 20th

Friday, December 21st

Saturday, December 22nd

Sunday, December 23rd

Monday, December 24th

Sunday, November 25, 2018

SV Toddler Toy Guide: Magnetic Building Toys (Tegu)

If you've followed SV Toddler for any length of time, you know that I'm a big fan of high-quality, long-lasting toys that promote creativity and exploration, encourage critical thinking, build problem-solving skills, can be used in a number of different child-directed ways, and are just plain fun for whole family play (I know my kids will want me to join them, so I only buy toys that I'll enjoy too!).

With these requirements, there are certain categories of toys that we consistently choose (and love!): pretend play items, board games and puzzles, art and music makers, and, of course, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math, if you're not familiar with the acronym)-related toys. Among the various STEM subcategories, building sets are some of our favorites, and magnetic building toys top the list.

Over the past five years, we've accumulated quite a stockpile of magnetic toy sets -- Tegu, MagnaTiles, and SmartMax, mostly -- and they're favorites of both of my kids (currently 6.5 and 2 years old). Each brand has its own benefits and challenges, and different sets are better tailored to different interests, abilities, and uses, but I can heartily recommend each of them to you.

Here's a review/explanation of Tegu blocks, with pictures and recommendations (and, if I can get my act together, some video from my kids showing how the sets work and interact). I'll add similar posts about MagnaTiles and SmartMax, and link them so that you can compare and contrast.

I hope this is helpful to you! Happy building!

(Affiliate links)


Tegu blocks were our first set of magnetic building toys, purchased as a Christmas gift when Toddler X was just shy of 2 years old. I adored them from the get-go -- they're lovely to look at, feel great in your hands, have an earth/community-friendly story, and offer a bunch of seriously fun building options and challenges for kids and adults alike.

Early on, Toddler X experienced some frustration figuring out the magnetic element (see below for an explanation of why it's tricky), and was as likely to just stack them as he was to connect them. But he soon started to understand polarity and magnet placement (what a joy it was to see that light coming on in his head!), and by the time he was three, he loved them. Over the years, we've added four or five more sets of different sizes, grabbing them whenever we see a great deal. (Amazon has them as Deals of the Day several times a year -- I try to post about them when I see them.) Now, at just over two years old, Baby X plays with our Tegu blocks every day (magnetic building toys are the only toys we consistently keep in our family room), and when she and Toddler X (4.5 years older than her) are playing together, it's most likely with these.

Tegu blocks are an expensive investment, but SO so worth it -- we've been playing with ours consistently for the last five years, and they're in the same condition as the day we opened the boxes, with countless hours of learning and creativity in the meantime. These, along with our other magnetic building sets, are the toys most likely to bring our whole family to the carpet to play together, and I have no doubt we'll continue to play with them for years to come. Here are the details:

The Blocks: Tegu blocks are constructed of responsibly-sourced hardwood from Honduras, with magnets embedded within. The finish is a water-based lacquer -- there's no lead and no plastic.

The blocks are indexed to a 30 mm cube -- the basic piece in a Tegu set -- and, in addition to the cubes, include planks, pillars, triangles, parallelograms, rhombuses, trapezoids, and wheels (not all shapes come in every set -- more on what sets I recommend below). The small pillars are as long as three cubes, and the large pillars are as long as 6. The mini planks are the length of two cubes, the medium planks are four, and the large planks are 7. The angled pieces match up accordingly, and all work together beautifully.

Various color schemes are available -- my personal favorites (they're what we started with, and bought everything else to match) are Tints and Jungle (which goes nicely with Tints); they also have plain light wood and plain mahogany (in a few sets), as well as several newer mixed-shade schemes (I'm loving Blossom and Blues). In the past few years, Tegu has added new sets that allow you to construct a specific vehicle or character (like a robot or monster) -- we don't have any of these sets yet, so I can't comment on them, though the reviews look good.

Tegu blocks are smooth and solid, with slightly curved edges. They feel wonderful in your hands -- you can sense the quality when you hold them or see them attach to each other.

The Magnets: Tegu's magnets -- their strength, polarity, and placement -- are a big part of what makes these blocks unique. They're embedded within the hardwood, completely invisible from the outside -- I have to say that it's very hard to figure out how they even got them in there, as there's no seam or opening to be seen. I have felt completely comfortable letting Baby X play with (and mouth) Tegu blocks since infancy -- there is NO way I could imagine a magnet getting out of one of these!

Tegu magnets are strong, polarized, and located in specific spots in each piece. While the cubes are magnetized on all six sides, the planks are only magnetized at the two ends (the large one has an extra magnet in the middle), and the columns only at the head and foot. The angled pieces each have specific magnet locations as well. Each magnet in each piece is polarized, meaning that you can't just attach any magnetized spot to any other -- you may need to flip a piece to find the parts that attract (and it's fun to play around with the pieces that repel). There is no doubt if you're in the right spot -- the magnets are strong, so when they attract, they really attract, and come together with a very satisfying click. Once they're attached, you have to give a solid tug to get them apart -- you can spin or swing them (gently, of course) without them falling apart.

The Tegu magnets' strength, polarity, and special placement make these blocks amazing and unique, but also make them challenging to work with. For very young kids, finding the location of the magnets within each block can be tough at first, and then it can be even tougher when the polarity is off and the magnets repel, rather than attract. I have even seen some of my adult friends get frustrated when trying them for the first time at our house, and when I hear people who are not fans talk about the blocks, it relates to the difficulty figuring out the connections. But the intellectual challenge and the need to overcome frustration to creatively solve design problems are exactly why I love these blocks. Figuring them out yourself is very satisfying -- watching your kids find solutions is even more so!

What you can build: Tegu blocks are great for building abstract stand-alone designs (a boat, a plane, an animal, a robot, a person skiing, whatever) and frames of buildings. You can't build a solid building with walls and floors using these blocks. However, what you can do, since the magnets are so strong, is build at angles -- you can have a piece sticking out horizontally, and another hanging down from that, only supported by one connection on the other side. We've attached pieces to our refrigerator and metal baby gates, sticking out parallel to the floor, and then built down from those. You can also swing pieces around at a pivot point, making windmills or plane props or whatever. There is a LOT of room for creativity with these.

Some of the ways my kids (and I) have used them:
  • Creating building frames with various room dividers and declaring the structure a house, a grocery store, a pet store, a furniture store, etc., then filling the rooms with furniture from a dollhouse, cars, small animal figures, or play food from the kitchen. (Toddler X loved to do this in the 3 - 4 age range -- Baby X isn't quite there yet, but I know it's coming).
  • Coming up with challenges for each other -- make a person, an elephant, a car, etc. -- and then seeing how accurate we could make it (keep in mind that Tegu figures are generally pretty abstract). (Or, similarly, building things and then making the other person guess what we've built.)
  • Building cars (we have several wheel sets) and trying to see how large we could make them and still get them to work (his dollhouse dolls were the drivers).
  • Just playing around with the various blocks to test gravity and magnet strength -- so many physics lessons to be learned with these things! I often sit on the floor while the kids play and just fiddle with the blocks -- five years later, I'm still making fun discoveries!
  • And, of course, building really cool, complex, super sturdy structures.
Why we love them: Tegu blocks are perfect for people who like to invest in high-quality, long-lasting toys that have endless play options. (And by "long-lasting", I mean both durable and able to hold a kid's interest for years at a time.) They're lovely to look at, and feel wonderful in your hands. I personally think they offer the greatest intellectual challenge of the any of our building sets and encourage the most creative play -- there are so many ways you can build with them. Oh, and did I mention that they're just plain fun?

What sets are available: Tegu offers a bunch of different set sizes, each of which contains a different mix of block shapes and added features. Here's a summary of what's available and links to learn more -- I'll give my recommendations in the next section:
  • Basic sets in a number of different sizes/color schemes: Tegu offers sets with a variety of block shapes in quantities ranging from 14 pieces to 52 pieces (beyond that, there are even 90 and 130 piece classroom sets!). Here are the options:
    • 14 piece set (available in Natural, Blossom, Blues, Sunset, and Tints color schemes): This set contains two cubes, two medium columns, four small planks, four medium planks, and two angled pieces (both parallelograms). List price for these sets is right around $35, but you can almost always find at least one of the color schemes for less (at this writing, Tints is $26.96, while the others are right around $35). Here's a look at your options for this size -- the prices listed with these pictures are current, and you can click through to learn more:

    • 24 piece set (available in Natural, Blossom, Blues, Jungle, Sunset, and Tints color schemes): Compared to the 14 piece set, this set doubles the number of cubes (to four) and short columns (also four) that you receive. It adds on two more short planks (for a total of six), and -- this is a biggie -- includes four of the long planks (which have three magnetized points) too. Like the 14 piece set, the 24 piece set has just two angled pieces (parallelograms). List price is right around $65, but you can almost always find deals on some color scheme or other (right now they range from $45.46 - $65.99). Here's a look at your options for this size -- the prices listed with these pictures are current, and you can click through to learn more:

    • 42 piece set (available in Natural, Blossom, Blues, Sunset, and Tints): This set offers pretty much everything from the smaller sets, plus a good bit more. You get six of the cubes, six each of the short, medium, and long planks, four of the short columns, and two parallelograms. However, there are three significant shape additions at this package size: long columns (you get four of them), wheels (four of those too), and four more angled pieces (trapezoids), which give you a LOT more building options. This set lists for around $110, but as with the others, you can usually find one color scheme that's significantly less (right now, Blues and Blossom are $88.00). Here's a look at your options for this size -- the prices listed with these pictures are current, and you can click through to learn more:

    • 52 piece set (available in Natural and Tints): While all of the preceding sets just added on pieces/shapes as they increased in quantity, the 52 piece set goes a totally different direction, eliminating all the angled pieces and columns and just going with cubes and different length planks. List price is $125-$140. I don't recommend this set as a primary set, so I won't bother with additional links -- you can click the link at the start of this bullet for more info.
  • Pocket pouches (available in a bunch of different shades, including Mahogany, which you can't find in the bigger sets, but which is super pricey): Tea offers two sizes of "pocket pouches" -- 6 pieces and 8 pieces -- which comprise small blocks, enclosed in a cute little felt pouch for mobile use. The 8 piece set includes four cubes and four small planks, while the 6 piece set is all about the angles, with four triangles and two parallelograms. Prices on these are all over the board, depending on which size and color scheme you choose, but you can often find them in the low to mid-$20s. Because they offer so many different sets, I won't list them all below, but you can click through on any of these to see what is available and the various current prices:
  • Character/Vehicle/Travel Pal sets: These are newer additions to the Tegu line, and we haven't bought any of them yet, so I can't give personal feedback. These are adorable, though, and many have super high ratings on Amazon, so it looks like those who have purchased them are happy with that decision. One great thing about these sets -- in addition to the cute printed blocks -- is that you get some of our favorite shapes (like triangles/wheels) and/or totally unique shapes/colors that you can't get in the basic sets. Prices vary by set type, but are generally in the $20-40 range. Note that the travel pals -- I believer there are six animal/vehicle options -- offer the same pieces as a Prizm Pocket Pouch, with added colors and graphics, which look really cute. Here are some of the available options:
  • Tegu Amazon Exclusives: These are almost brand new, as far as I can tell (I follow toys pretty closely, and I hadn't seen any of these sets before starting this post), and I'm guessing that they'll be a hit. They're a line of Tegu toys that appear to be specifically designed for younger kids (they say 12 months and up), featuring primary colors and cute designs. They use the Tegu system and are compatible with all other Tegu sets, but offer less of an abstract building experience, if that makes sense. (Think of it as looking at clouds and calling out their shapes -- fun with a four year-old, who understands abstraction a bit, but not really comprehensible to a very literal one year-old.) These are also the only Tegu sets I know of that include "people"(funny little pegs with faces), which would be fun for a toddler. They appear to be a good introduction to magnetic building, and a fun start to a Tegu collection. I'm already thinking of these as Christmas gifts for little relatives, or maybe even Baby X (although man, do we already have a lot of Tegu!). Here's what's available:

    (And a quick note on this one: Be sure to take a look at the actual reviews of the "Floating Stacker," not just the stars. Apparently the one person who didn't like it -- and gave it a one star review, thereby dragging down its rating -- interpreted "Floating Stacker" to mean that this wooden toy could actually be used in water, despite the fact that description explicitly says it can't. The term "floating" here refers to how the repelling magnets seem to "float" -- with that understanding, it appears that other buyers have loved it.)
  • Specific Shapes: Tegu offers add-on packages for specific, well-loved shapes that help round out a collection and increase building/play options. We've purchased the cubes and the wheels as separate packs, and it has been nice to have those additions to our primary sets. Other options are Triangles (aside from this set, the only way to get them is through Pocket Pouch Prisms) and Parallelograms (adding these really increases building options by giving you more angles). Prices vary based on the set. Here are your options:

    What I recommend: As is the case with pretty much any building system, the more, the merrier is generally true with Tegu blocks. Each additional block allows for bigger buildings, more creative structures, more complex solutions. Especially if you have more than one child playing together, or if mom and dad want to get in on the fun, having enough blocks to go around will make the activity far more enjoyable for everyone.

    With Tegu sets, however, there's an additional issue: certain shapes/sizes of blocks really increase your building options, so while having more is always nice, having better is also a consideration. As a result, I actually don't recommend the biggest standard (non-school size) set -- the 52 piece one -- because it's missing out on a lot of fun shapes that can be found in smaller sets. By far my top pick among the sets is the 42 piece set (see above for all the colors) -- it has the best variety of parts, including parallelograms, trapezoids, cubes, and wheels. This was the second set we got (we started with the 24 piece set), and having the angled pieces totally changed the game. Since then, we've added another set of wheels, a few sets of cubes, and a prism pocket pouch (which includes triangles), and all have significantly expanded our play options. However, I think the 42 piece set, even standing alone, is a perfect representation of the Tegu line and, if you can swing it, it's a great place to start your collection.

    As tempting as it may be to "test" whether you actually like Tegu blocks by buying the smallest and/or least expensive sets (like the 14 piece set or the pocket pouches), I think you'd be doing yourself a disservice by making that choice. To really enjoy and experience the blocks and how they work together, you need to have enough parts/variety to actually construct a building, multiple figures, or something else exciting. Pocket pouches (especially the Prism) are great add-ons for those already familiar with Tegu (fun for travel, and great to incorporate into your main collection), but I wouldn't recommend them as an introductory set. At a minimum, go with the 24 piece.

    If you already have a basic Tegu set, then I'd recommend adding on some angled parts or additional wheels -- the small packs make perfect stocking stuffers! If you find a good deal on the Pocket Pouch Prism, that includes four triangles and two parallelograms, so it offers more variety than either the triangle or parallelogram package alone.

    Stay tuned for my upcoming posts on MagnaTiles and SmartMax!!

    Thursday, October 4, 2018

    The SV Toddler Fall Planner -- 2018 Edition

    It's here! With daytime highs finally dropping into the 70's and four pumpkin patches already under my belt, I'm feeling motivated to get my 2018 Fall Planner posted. This is, as always, a work in progress -- I'll add to it as I have time (and discover more events!). I'm starting with this weekend ('cause it's the most urgent) and I'll go from there.

    First off, check out one of my favorite posts ever: my Two Sentence Pumpkin Patch Reviews. I just updated it for 2018, so look again if you've seen it before.

    Then, look below for loads of fun, scheduled events and activities that only take place in autumn.

    And finally, head out and celebrate the best season of the year!!

    (P.S. Head to Amazon to buy everything you need for Fall and the upcoming holiday season -- here's an affiliate link to the main page! Thanks for shopping with SV Toddler!)

    Friday, October 5
    Saturday, October 6
      Sunday, October 7

      Friday, October 12

      Saturday, October 13
      Sunday, October 14

      Thursday, October 18

      Friday, October 26

      Saturday, October 27

      Sunday, October 28
      Tuesday, October 30

      Wednesday, October 31

      More to come!!!!! 

      Hmm...what to do today?