Tis' the Season for Learning

For those of you who may not know, when I'm not decorating or shopping for the latest mini fashions, I homeschool Holiday.  Truth be told, homeschooling is the main gig happening at our house, all the rest is what happens in my free time (hence why I don't blog as often as I'd like to or plan to!)

While everyone is in the full throes of Christmas shopping, sometimes it's hard to wrap your brain around bringing even one more toy into your home.  Especially when the toy at the top of their list is nothing more than a cleverly marketed Nick Jr. commercial and you know your hard-earned money will end up in the pile of toys that are rarely played with though regularly competing for your sanity.  

Today I wanted to bring you a list of learning toys that I've found valuable in the classroom and play time.  There have been many moments when I'm teaching Holiday that I can tell she just needs something extra to grasp a concept.  I've been amazed at the power of educational toys (aka learning manipulatives) which can add a tactile and fun dimension to learning.  

Tis' the season for early literacy 

Holiday was an early reader- doing easy CVC books at age 3 and reading at a 3rd grade level before she was old enough to be in Kindergarten.  I think part of her reading success was due to the types of toys and resources I surrounded her with from the time she was a baby.  So much of early learning happens in play.  As a baby, I used these simple letter toys in the bath tub would would tell her what sound each letter makes as she played with them.  As early as 10 months, she could tell you the sounds for several letters. Here's a collection of early literacy for your tiny ones up through progressing leaders: 

1. Munchkins Bath Letters: This is a great, wonderful, first way to introduce little ones to letters and their sounds as they're playing in the bath. BUY IT HERE

2.  The Learning Journey Upper & Lower Case Letters Puzzle:  This is a great little puzzle to learn lowercase letters and letter sounds. BUY IT HERE

3.  Smart Snacks Alpha Pops: Holiday has had this set since around 1 year of age.  It was late 3's when she was really able to snap them together, but was a great resources with connecting uppercase letters to their "little matches." BUY IT HERE

4. Mudpuppy Magnetic Letters: I love these magnetic letters from Mudpuppy.  The picture is for the uppercase letters, but I highly recommend buying the set of lowercase letters as well.  There are two color-ways for each.  If you get the same color-way for both the uppercase and lowercase letters, the color/pattern of the uppercase letter will match the lowercase letters.  BUY UPPERCASE HERE.  BUY LOWERCASE HERE

5. Dick and Jane Early Readers Collection:  When kids are building a strong phonics foundation, Dick and Jane books are absolutely invaluable.  There are countless early readers with every recognizable character out there.  However, not all readers are created equally.  There is a reason that Dick and Jane stands the test of time.  The word repetition really helps young readers grasp the CVC words in combination with everyday, simple, high-frequency words.  I also love that many sentences would end in one word and the next sentence would begin with the same word.  I felt like this really helped Holiday recognize that the same word starting with an uppercase or lowercase letter was still the same word.  BUY IT HERE

6.  Learning Resources Goodie Games ABC Cookies: This game/ toy is all lowercase letters.  This is great for when kids are at the point of learning CVC words and word groups.  Simple games included to play with letters make learning deliciously fun! BUY IT HERE

7.  The Land of Nod Letter Scramble Kids Game: I LOVE this game!  I bought this for Holiday for Christmas this year.  Follow the purchase link to see how HUGE this game is-- these fun, over-sized plush pieces make learning even more engaging.  This is pretty much like the old-school Boggle game-- but way more fun and engaging for little ones.  This is a good game for one kids are starting to spell CVC words on their own and can be fun all the way through age 99! BUY IT HERE 

8. Leap Frog The Letter Factory DVD and Flashcards: This link is for a 3 pack DVD set and they are ALL excellent.  I can't recommend the Letter Factory DVD enough for learning letter sounds.  I specifically linked this set because it includes a set of flashcards that link back to the movie for each letter.  I think the tangible, visual reinforcement is really wonderful bonus.  The other two DVDs in this pac are also wonderful.  Going to School goes over all the basics- letters, counting to 20, Days of the Week, Months of the Year and more!  Talking Words is the next step after The Letter Factory-- it shows children how to blend letter sounds together along with "Sticky Letters" (aka Vowels) to make words! BUY IT HERE

9.  Hooked on Phonics PreK:  I am a HUGE believer in phonics as the best course for early reading.  Many schools and curriculums focus on memorizing long lists of sight words and high frequency words. However, I've seen first-hand, how valuable a strong phonics foundation is.  We have used Hooked on Phonics all the way through.  Holiday did the Kindergarten Hooked on Phonics when she was 3, so I wouldn't go by age as much as what their literacy skill level is.  This Hooked on Phonics Pre-K is to develop letter recognition and learn all of the letter sounds.  Once your child knows all of their letters, letter sounds and STRONG lowercase recognition, you're ready to jump into the Kindergarten version of Hooked on Phonics.  BUY PRE-K HERE.  BUY KINDERGARTEN HERE 

Tis' the season for STEM development 

These days there are so many awesome, play-based, resources out there to develop Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Skills.  Here are some of our favorites: 

1.  Learning Resources Hundreds Board: If you have no other early math toy in your collection, have a good Hundreds Board.  I shopped around quite a bit for just the right hundreds board (would have loved an all wooden version) but this one was the best one I have found so far.  There are individual tiles 1-100.  In addition, two sets of colored translucent tiles (red and blue) are also included.  The colored tiles were really helpful when we were working on skip counting (2's, 5's and 10's).  There have just been more times than I can count that I've pulled out the hundreds board to teach a math concept whether it be to use as a number line or finding the nearest '5' when learning to tell time.  It's also a great visual resource for teaching multiplication. BUY IT HERE

2. Math Marks the Spot Game: Super, over-sized, math fun!  Roll the big, plush dice and solve the match problem. BUY IT HERE

3. Math Mat Challenge: We don't own this, but I have read a lot of reviews on this one and it looks like a super fun and engaging way to work on math! BUY IT HERE

4. Learning Resources Magnetic Apple Fractions: Many of the learning toys we have are also play food!  These apples get played with, regularly, just as play food.  However, they are such a good, tangible learning resource too.  When it came to teaching Holiday fractions to 1/4, no teaching was really necessary-- she immediately understood the concept because she had played with these apples so often.  They were also super useful when she learned to tell time to the quarter hour.  BUY IT HERE

5.  Bunny Peek-a-Boo Logic Game:  This is an awesome logic game from Smart Games for little ones (geared for ages 2+).  My neighbor lent this one to us a few years ago and I loved how this toy made Holiday think in a way that her other toys didn't.  Such a great way to work on STEM skills early on.  Cards are color-coded for difficulty so you can really scale for a variety of ages (I would say this one would be good through age 5).  BUY IT HERE

6.  3 in 1 Construction Bulldozer, Dump, Excavator Drill and Build: Kids are just attracted to cars and things that go.  This toy takes that concept to the next level by having your little engineer build this multi-functional dump truck/ excavator/ bull dozer first!  Super durable, can be built and re-built over and over.  Plus, it's a super fun truck to play with assembled.  BUY IT HERE

7.  Inchimals Blocks:  I really love these Inchimal Blocks from Fat Brain Toys.  12 blocks with the largest being a 12 inch giraffe and the smallest, a 1 inch lady bug.  This has been a great toy to get a sense for measurement, addition, estimating and figuring out how to get to 10.  Having a tangible learning manipulative that shows scale, the number and has an identifying animal gives children a variety of ways to latch onto mathematical concepts.  It also comes with a dry erase booklet and marker to work on number sentences using the blocks.  BUY IT HERE

8.  I Sea 10 Math Game: "New Math" has an early focus of getting to 10.  Many early math activities focus on what we must add to numbers 1-9 to get to 10 and what combination of numbers will get you there.  This game is a super fun skill builder that develops an overall numbers sense.  Fish are turned over to reveal a number.  As soon as a combination of 10 is on the board, the first person to should "I See 10!" gets to keep those cards.  BUY IT HERE 

9. Ocean Raiders Math Board Game: There are a variety of ways to play this fun addition game.  Whether adding single numbers, double digit numbers, numbers without carrying and numbers with carrying.  BUY IT HERE 

10.  My First Lab Mini Duo-Scope Microscope: This was on Holiday's Christmas List this year and reviews as a great, little first microscope!  I'm excited about adding a new dimension to our classroom and learning activities!  BUY IT HERE 

11. Lunar Telescope: This was also on Holiday's Christmas List this year! She loves outer space and what better way to bring the galaxy a little closer. BUY IT HERE

12. Magna-Tiles: We love Legos for STEM development, but Magna-Tiles are really more open ended in my opinion.  My husband grew up on the mission field in Chile and Guatemala and a suitcase of Legos were his main (and one of his only) toys through childhood.  He often comments while doing Legos with Holiday that today's Lego sets aren't what they used to be.  Where Legos used to be almost all bricks, now there are lots of specialized, large molded pieces that are very specific to each, individual set.  Out of all the magnetic block options, Magna-Tiles are far superior to its competitors.  They are a completely open-ended toy, fun for all ages. BUY IT HERE

13. Design and Drill: There are several versions of Design and Drill (some are less gender specific), but we have found this to be a great little game to get the brain thinking and the drilling is just SO much fun for kids.  Holiday has really enjoyed this toy over the past year.  BUY IT HERE

14. Robot Turtles Game for Little Programmers: My husband, David, is a Senior Network Engineer/ Architect at Google and this board game has been a big hit for he and Holiday to play together. It teaches computational thinking in a simple way for little ones to comprehend.  You can start playing this game as early as age 4.  There's also an add-on pack for more advanced programming challenges.  BUY IT HERE

15. Trucky3 Logic Challenge Game: Not all little ones will have the attention span to sit and figure out a logic came.  HOWEVER, Trucky3 is a game changer for lots of those kids!  For ages 3-8, this challenge is more difficult than it looks!  You must fit specific shapes into the beds of each truck without any shapes sticking up over the bed of the truck.  Such a fun and engaging logic and STEM activity for your vehicle lovers! BUY IT HERE

16.  Camelot Jr. Logic Game: Camelot Jr. is much the same concept as Trucky3 and the next level of difficulty after Bunny Peek-a-Boo listed above.  A great logic challenge!  BUY IT HERE

Tis' the Season for Telling Time 

Telling Time is getting its own mini section apart from other STEM resources as I just finished teaching Holiday how to tell time to the minute.  We have loved and used each of these, daily, during our math time.  

Eeboo Telling Time Game: This game is AWESOME!  Four individual clocks are included and can be played with up to 4 players or can be scaled to just a single player.  For Holiday play alone, she plays in rounds-- I set out each of the four clocks in front of her and put a different time card above each clock for her to set the correct time on each clock.  Her goal is always to get 4/4 correct for each round.  The deck of time cards is color coded so you can included cards for telling time to the hour, half hour, nearest 5 or by the minute. BUY IT HERE

Mindware Owl Clock: This clock has been invaluable in teaching time.  The back of it is chalkboard so you can either draw the hands on the clock and have the child write to time below, or you can write the time and have them draw the hands on the clock.  The front of the clock has a little moving window that helps with the "Secret Code" (aka counting the hour numbers by 5's to figure out minutes).  It also includes cards if you want to use it as a game to set the right time.  Plus, it doesn't hurt that it has a vintage look to it and is adorable in our Homeschool Room or Playroom!  BUY IT HERE

Flik Flak Swiss Watches for Kids: I'm in LOVE with these Flik Flak watches and was so happy to find them.  Holiday's was really helpful while she was learning to tell time and is such a good reminder now as well.  You'll notice that around the outside of the clock face, the "Secret Code" for figuring out minutes is also included.  There are TONS of options from prints to solid colors to choose from.  They are a nice, lightweight watch and not at all bulky for little ones to wear.  BUY IT HERE

Tis' The Season for Geography 

These are all such great resources for not only learning about our world and country, but also to learn individual facts for each state.  Lots of fun while your family is traveling or on road trips, to explore your destination or towns you'll be passion through-- or even to learn a little more about the state you call "Home." BUY IT HERE

1. The 50 States Big Book: This is a beautiful, BIG, colorful book that has a layout dedicated to each state with lots of fun and practical facts. BUY IT HERE

2. Atlas of Adventures: This is a wonderful, highly rated book to discover the wonders of the world.  A good way to grasp continents, countries and the major landmarks and cultural highlights for each.  BUY IT HERE

3. Janod Magnetic USA Map: I've been through several USA Map puzzles and activities and I really think this Janod one is the best!  It is nice, heavy duty and magnetic.  I love that the individual state pieces are the right shape for their state (versus just a puzzle piece).  This whole map, assembled, can also be hung up without pieces falling off.  The only drawbacks is that Alaska isn't to scale.  Also, a few of the northern New England states are combined onto one piece. BUY IT HERE

4. The 50 States Activity Book: This activity book is a wonderful compliment to the 50 States Book-- definitely worth having!  It also includes a beautiful pull-out, full color poster of the USA, all the state flags as well as all of the presidents through 2016.  BUY IT HERE

5. Globe: I researched quite awhile for the right globe for our homeschool room and this Advantus Desktop Globe was the winner.  I have been more than happy with our purchase.  It is really a beautiful, high quality globe and a great value for the money.  The colors and bright, nice contrast to make it easily readable and mountain ranges are raised.  BUY IT HERE

6. Land of Nod Road Trip Soft Wall Map:  This is a really fun way to learn the states and serves as a great room decor piece as well!  The felt USA map comes with a set of velcro state names as well as a separate set of velcro state capitols.  In addition, there are several fun landmark pieces to put on the map as well.  Pieces like "I Live Here," the statue of liberty, etc. BUY IT HERE

7.  Me on the Map Book: This is a great book for little ones to begin to comprehend their place in the universe.  We don't just live in a house, but in a town, a city, a state, a country, a continent and a planet.  This is a great, little, first geography book for any little one.  BUY IT HERE

8. Alex Toys USA Map in the Tub:  I have always been a big proponent of incorporating learning into play time and this USA map puzzle for the bath is a great way to introduce the 50 States!  BUY IT HERE

9. MAPS Book: This is, by no means, a comprehensive atlas, but rather a wonderful collection of 52 beautiful world maps to pique a child's interest in the world around them and in geography-- especially for a child who already really likes maps!  There's also an accompaniment activity book that can be purchased separately!   BUY IT HERE

tis' the season for anatomy 

1.  Janod Body Magnetic Set: This is a favorite toy at our house and super useful in our homeschool room.  This set comes with cards in a variety of languages, but rest assured, English is included as well.  This is a wonderful learning tool for children to realize there's SO much going on inside their amazing, little bodies!  There are pieces to make both a boy and a girl, full skin bodies, skeleton, muscular/ circular system as well as organ systems.  This is a great learning tool!  I often buy this along with the Outside-In book as a gift! BUY IT HERE

2.  Outside-In Lift the Flaps Book: This book is an awesome way for kids to being to understand how magnificent their bodies truly are and how different body systems work together.  BUY IT HERE

American Girl for Newbies: How We Fell in Love and Why it's a Favorite Brand

Rewind (like old-school rewind on the VHS) back to the year 2000, sit back, get comfy and I will tell you about the earliest days of my love affair with American Girl!  

I had never before heard of American Girl, but two things happened, rather simultaneously, to put American Girl on my radar.  First, I was nannying for two of the cutest little girls who each had a single American Girl doll they adored. Getting and having this doll was a BIG deal!  At the same time, my sister was pregnant with my first niece, Zoe Faith. As soon as my sister found out she was having a girl, her Mother-In-Law, Von, went out and purchased an American Girl Bitty Baby and just about every Bitty Baby outfit and accessory in existence at the time!  Von was an elementary school teacher for many years outside of Chicago- home of the flag ship American Girl store and was well versed in all things American Girl, but was needing a little girl to shop for.  

At the time, my sister could not wrap her mind around why anyone would buy a baby an $80 doll (let alone a baby who was still in utero!)  For each holiday, more Bitty Baby outfits and accessories would be added to Zoe's growing collection.  The adorable pink and blue boxes all sat, stacked and unopened on the top shelf of her closet.  By the time Zoe turned 3, my sister said she FINALLY got it!  Around the age of 3, is when Zoe's love for doll play really took off.  She now had a baby brother and loved being able to care for Bitty Baby like she saw her Mama take care of baby brother.  Changing Bitty Baby's clothes was always a highlight, and now she had LOTS of clothes and accessories for anything she could imagine with Bitty Baby.

When Holiday came along in 2010, I had already fallen in love with American Girl and my mom bought Holiday her first Bitty Baby for her first Christmas when she was just 2 months old!  I wanted to build her collection through the early years when she didn't really care what she got for birthdays or Christmas. And slowly, I started buying little Bitty Baby outfits and accessories: A heart outfit for Valentine's Day, an Easter dress tucked away in her Easter basket, Christmas jammies in her stocking.  So by the time Holiday was 2 and 3, she had her own little American Girl collection started and has LOVED doll play from that day forward. Here are some pictures of her from 6 months to 1 year, already loving on her Bitty Baby! 

Her first time having lunch at the American Girl Bistro for cousin Zoe's birthday! 

Her first time having lunch at the American Girl Bistro for cousin Zoe's birthday! 

 

Over the years, American Girl has become as much of a hobby for me as it is for Holiday.  We have now turned one of our spare bedrooms into "The Doll Room," and Pappy constructed a 6 ft tall American Girl doll house for Holiday last year.  I'll share pictures later.  But first, I wanted to explain why we love this brand so much: 

Quality:  American Girl Dolls and accessories are made with superior quality.  They are expensive, there's no getting around that, but when you hold the dolls and accessories in your hands and compare them to the Target or Walmart versions, you GET why they're more valuable.  When my Grandmother was still living, we would all go back to Pennsylvania at least once a year and she often got to see the girls' dolls.  Having sewed many clothes herself through the years, she just couldn't get over the quality, workmanship and attention to detail on the little Bitty Baby outfits.  One of my last, living memories of her was when we had all the Grandkids Facetime her on Christmas Eve.  Holiday was holding her Bitty Baby in a new outfit that was purchased with Christmas money my Grandma had sent for her.  Holiday wanted her to see the new outfit and my Grandmother commented how special Bitty Babies are and that they're not like other dolls!  I think her love for Bitty Baby has made me love Bitty even more!  

 The Well Styled Child blog originally started out of my love for boutique children's clothing and I know it's a passion many of my readers share.  American Girl is very much like the "boutique brand" of doll clothing! Sure you can find super cute kids clothes at Target, but the quality, workmanship and details aren't the same as your Persnickety or Matilda Jane.  

Timeless & Classic:  The main reason I love boutique girls' clothing is also one of the main reasons I love American Girl. Denise Marchis, the founder of Matilda Jane Clothing said of her beloved clothing line, "It's all about keeping a little girl...a little girl."  This is SO true of American Girl.  We live in a society and culture that pressures little girls to grow up as quickly as possible.  By the time they're 5 or 6 and entering school, it's time to say goodbye to the "baby shows" in favor of Descendants, High School Musical and the like.  It's time to move across the store from the age-appropriate toddler section to the miniature versions of what 20 year old girls are wearing.  Dolls are thrown into the yard sale pile while new collections of Monster High Dolls line their dressers.  Over the past two years, I've lost count of how many little girls (under age 8) I've seen dressed up as zombie cheerleaders. I'll be honest with you, I can't wrap my brain around that!  I've been so intentional about allowing Holiday to enjoy age-appropriate things for as long as possible.  At having just turned 6, she has a lot more in common with 4 year old Daniel Tiger than she does with 13 or 18 year old (depending on the season) Carly Shay from the popular Disney show, iCarly. So for us, American Girl fits WAY more into our vision for her play and media influences than what might be popular for other little girls her age.  I love timeless toys!  I love that American Girl reflects what little girls her age have been playing with for centuries.  No need to re-invent the wheel for us! 

Holiday with her 1950's era Maryellen BeForever American Girl Doll along with a coordinating girl outfit also from American Girl 

Holiday with her 1950's era Maryellen BeForever American Girl Doll along with a coordinating girl outfit also from American Girl 

American Girl Bitty Baby on her tricycle in her (retired) birthday outfit!  A perfect example of timeless, classic toys and keeping little girls little! 

American Girl Bitty Baby on her tricycle in her (retired) birthday outfit!  A perfect example of timeless, classic toys and keeping little girls little! 

Investment and Resale Value: Nothing at American Girl is cheap!  Not just in terms of quality, but also in pricing!  However, just like boutique children's clothing, American Girl products that are taken care of, retain their value over time.  I know a lot of moms don't want to commit to the price of American Girl without knowing that their child will love it, so they start with Our Generation (Target), Journey Dolls (ToysRUs) or MyLife (Walmart).  If your budget is very limited and it's what you can afford, by all means, provide your child this wholesome play opportunity however you are able!  However, if your budget does allow some splurges in this area- I think that less, well-chosen, high quality items will produce more quality play time.  At the end of the day, if you splurge on American Girl and your child rarely touches it, you can easily resale it on the many American Girl BST boards!  For items that are in excellent condition, you can expect to get at least 75% of your initial investment back and even more for retired items (American Girl retires items constantly which lends itself to a strong resale market).  There are a select few Our Generation items that I've found to be okay in quality, but for the most I prefer the American Girl brand. I'll also share tips at the end for getting the best deals at American Girl.  

Historical and Educational Value:  I'll break down the different American Girl Doll lines below, but my favorite line from American Girl (and what truly attracted me to the brand to begin with) is their line of historical dolls, currently referred to as the BeForever line.  Holiday loved her Bitty Baby and Bitty Twins but started to get interested in the larger, 18 inch dolls right around her 4th birthday.  This was mostly fueled by trips to our local American Girl store and also because she fell in love with the Samantha movie- which is a very well-done movie based on Samantha Parkington, an American Girl character from the Edwardian Era (1890's-1910). While the BeForever characters are fictional, the history and details surrounding their collections and stories are right out of your American History book!  This connection to the American past is one of the most endearing and enduring qualities of American Girl and its legacy.  I'll talk more about the BeForever line below. 

Open-Ended Play Value:  When deciding what toys to bring into our home, choosing toys that are open-ended in their play value has always been at the top of my priority list.  Toys that are open-ended are toys that can be played with in a different way every time you pick them up.  There are countless ways for your imagination to use them and pretend with them.  This isn't only a nice concept, it's important developmental work for children.  Providing open-ended toys enables you to capitalize on your children's play time-- it's doing so much more than merely keeping them busy and occupied. Plato once said that you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.  Doll play is extremely open-ended. Anything that can happen in a child's real life can be re-created with dolls.  Most anything you purchase from American Girl can really lend itself to open-ended play.  However, when I'm choosing which doll items to purchase, I still gage how "open" a toy is.  For example, Target released an adorable Ice Cream Truck in their Our Generation Doll line early in 2016.  I rushed out and bought it right away.  It is cute and it is a good value for the money considering the amount of accessories that come with it.  However, over time, I've realized this toy is extremely limited in its play value.  For starters, all of the (mostly hand-held) ice cream/ popsicles/ sno-cones that come with it are super cute and well made, but it's nearly impossible to get those items to balance in the dolls' hand.  Also, it's hard to think of ways to play with this toy outside of the dolls lining up for their ice cream.  Contrast this with Maryellen's Diner from American Girl.  Where dolls can sit at the counter, in the booth or "dance" over by the jukebox.  Girls can easily get behind the diner and interactively cook and serve.  The food items are all things that sit on the trays/ plates/ counter.  The Diner is a truly open-ended toy whereas the ice cream truck is quite limited.  It's also difficult to stand a doll in the ice cream truck and once you do-- it's very difficult for anyone to move anything around from inside the truck.  Consequently, the ice cream truck is rarely played with, but the diner is played with constantly.  

Navigating American Girl Doll Lines 

Bitty Baby 

Bitty Baby is a 15 inch doll line from American Girl that represents infants.  Their outfits and accessories represent a baby from newborn through 1 year-ish.  They have hard heads, legs and arms but their bodies are soft.  There are lots of accessories, big and small.  From cribs and car seats to changing table and Bitty Check-Up sets.  Bitty Baby was Holiday's first American Girl doll that she fell in love with and is still a huge favorite.  Around 4, she became very interested in the 18" dolls and Bitty sat for a big, but now at 6, Bitty Baby gets LOTS of regular love and attention!  She even has several Bitty baby items on her Christmas list this year.  Bitty Baby is a great first doll for any little one!  They currently run right around $60 and you get to select which onesie to bring your Bitty Baby home in.  There are a variety of skin/hair/eye color options for your baby.  You can check them all out here.   

Bitty Twins 

The Bitty Twins line are also 15" dolls with hard heads, legs, arms and soft bodies.  Bitty Twins have a little hair (long enough for pig tails) and their line represents the toddler years.  Bitty Twins have recently been phased out in lieu of the new Wellie Wisher line.  We LOVE Bitty Twins (Holiday has a set of blonde and brunette girl twins) and are sad to see their line go.  Bitty Twins also have boy options which are nice if you want a little brother or have a little guy who would love a doll of his own!  You can still buy the Bitty Twins dolls here on the American Girl website.  If you click on the gender set dolls you want, you can customize hair/skin/eye color for each of your twins.  Unfortunately, all of their outfits and accessories have been retired.  However, Bitty Twins and Bitty Baby clothes are completely interchangeable (since they are both 15 inch dolls) so you can still buy Bitty Baby items for Bitty Twins.  

Wellie Wishers

Wellie Wishers are a brand new line for American Girl that released at the beginning of summer 2016.  They are a 12 inch doll with completely hard bodies.  So all of the Wellie Wishers dolls, clothes and accessories are exclusive to their line and will not fit the bigger dolls.  These dolls are strategically marketed to girls in the 3-7 year old age group and American Girl has done an excellent job of creating a line that really resonates with this age demographic.  Wellie Wishers are also less expensive than the 18" dolls coming in at $60/ doll.  With having so much first-hand experience with American Girl, my take on Wellie Wishers is this:  they have beautiful faces and are very well-received by their target demographic.  However, I have been disappointed with their wig quality and I don't feel like their clothing is quite on par with any of the other clothing/doll lines from American Girl. The outfits they come with are cute enough, but the extra outfits available for purchase are lacking, in my opinion.  That being said, Holiday LOVES them and plays with them constantly.  They make excellent little sisters to the 18" dolls.  Bitty Baby and Twins frequented the little sister role before Wellie Wishers came along, however,  the scale of Bitty to the 18" dolls really isn't a very good fit.  Any time we travel, Holiday always wants to take one of her AG dolls along and I've realized that Wellie Wishers are much easier to travel with than a regular 18" doll. They are smaller, more compact and lightweight.  Plus, I don't mind the fact that we're toting around a less expensive doll when there's always a chance of the doll or her many accessories getting left behind somewhere. 

BeForever 

BeForever, as mentioned above, is American Girl's original line of historical dolls.  This is the line that began that great empire so many of us love today.  The originator and founder of American Girl, Pleasant Rowland, had the idea for Pleasant Company (original name) after visiting Colonial Williamsburg.  She came away from that trip wanting to publish a series of children's book that taught history while inspiring girls through the lives of their heroines.  She simultaneously wanted to launch a doll company with beautiful, detailed dolls and accessories so girls could re-enact those stories.   From that dream, the three first dolls were released, Samantha, Kirsten and Molly.  From there the dream has grown and expanded into a multi-faceted brand.  

The BeForever dolls are an 18" doll, each representing a different era of American history.  While the characters are fictional, there is great effort placed into making the stories, dolls and their accessories as true to their place in history as possible.  As mentioned earlier, this is the line of dolls that made me fall in love with American Girl.  I love the connection to the past and the valuable lessons girls can learn from history.  In an article by Michele Willdgen, she says of the historical collection, "The story themes and subjects, the historical moment and the doll's accessories all aim to create a character who embodies an iconic time in American history.  The goal is a girl who is accurate and alluring at once, familiar enough that a child identifies with her and enticingly different, so that a child wants to learn more."  

As a Homeschool Mom, I've really seen the benefit of the BeForever stories.  When we were studying the early American colonies, we pulled out the Felicity movie.  While discussing the role of the Native Americans and how they were living in America prior to the colonists, we talked about Kaya's story.  The BeForever line makes history come alive.  It takes history from the textbook to girls' bedrooms and playrooms and into her heart in a way that reading alone cannot achieve. 

While several BeForever dolls have been retired over the years, these are the dolls currently available for purchase: 

Kaya, 1764 Pre-American Colonization 

Josefina Montoya, 1824- New Mexico, Post Spanish Independence 

Addy Walker, 1864- Civil War Era 

Samantha Parkington, 1904- Edwardian Era 

Rebecca Rubin, 1914- early 1900's, daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants 

Kit Kitteridge, 1934- Depression Era 

Maryellen Larkin, 1954- Fabulous Fifties 

Melody Ellison, 1964- Civil Rights Era 

Julie Albright, 1974, 1970's Era 

Girl of the Year 

The girl of the year is an exclusive doll released on January 1st of each year and only available for that given year.  GOTY are modern American Girls with a variety of present-day stories.  The GOTY collection generally includes a series of books, several outfits and both large and small accessories and/or furniture pieces.  The current doll of the year is Lea Clark- a 10 year old girl from St. Louis, Missouri who goes on a wild adventure in the Brazilian rainforest.  You can view Lea Clark and her line here.  Lea Clark and her line will all be retired on December 31, 2016 or until her items sell out through the Christmas shopping season. 

How To Save on American Girl 

1.  Sign up for emails here

2.  Request a catalog here:  There are often print coupons included

3.  Sign up for AG Rewards:  This is a new system that just launched in Summer 2016.  For every $200 dollars spent at American Girl, you can get $10 in rewards, awarded each month- up to $50 on any given month. 

4. Shop American Girl Costco:  Costco often has AG gift cards ($100 worth of gift cards for $80).  This is a smart way to shop as it is essentially saving you 20%. Even better if there's a sale and you can use your gift cards for additional savings.  

Costco also has several American Girl dolls and products at a discount.  Currently at time of writing this (November, 2016), there is a Samantha Holiday set with her winter coat and Christmas dress.  There is also a Bitty Baby with several outfits and accessories.  In addition to small pets (cats, dogs), a large horse and several books and craft sets.

5.  Watch for Sales. Check in on the website often or follow some of the American Girl BST boards on Facebook-- all good ways to stay in the know on sales.  Last year, I purchased gift cards at Costco and used them during a 20% off total purchase sale before Christmas- the equivalent of 40% off total purchase.  

6.  Buy Second-Hand.  Between Ebay and B/S/T boards, there is a vibrant resale market for American Girl products.  I also know lots of people who have stumbled upon great deals at their local Goodwills and places like that.  In addition, I check my local Craigslist every week or so to see what new AG products have been added!  You never know where you might stumble across a great deal! You may run into dolls who need a little TLC.  Thankfully, there are loads of Youtube videos and blogs out there on how to refresh dolls.  You can also send dolls to the American Girl Doll Hospital for just about anything.  The price list is online so you can determine if it's worth it to have the doll fixed or just replaced. 

MY TOP AMERICAN GIRL PICKS

DOLLS:  Which dolls you purchase are obviously based on your child's preference.  Even with an ever-growing collection of 18" dolls, Holiday still plays with her Bitty Babies very regularly. Bitty Baby is a great doll for all girls to have, in my opinion.  My niece, Emme, is 8.  She has several 18" American Girl dolls, but recently received her first Bitty Baby and is in love!

  My personal favorite dolls are Maryellen, Samantha and Kit.  Maryellen Larkin is a 1950's era doll.  She and her collection always remind me of my grandmothers and the decade my parents were born in.  Kit Kittredge is the depression era doll.  She also reminds me of the many stories my grandmothers told me about their own childhoods-- stories that I love to pass onto Holiday as we play with Kit and her furniture/ accessories.  Samantha Parkington is the quintessential American Girl Doll.  She has the largest collection of any of the dolls and just represents a time period of all of my favorite L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott heroines. 

ACCESSORIES:  I personally think it's smarter to build an American Girl Doll collection by actually buying clothing and accessories for your doll rather than only buying additional dolls.  The dolls' play value is more limited when you don't have anything to go with them or seasonal outfits to change them into.  Buying more dolls with nothing to go with them isn't going to increase play value or play time-- it's just going to be another doll lined up on the dresser.

DOLL CLOTHES:  Because Holiday does have a lot of doll outfits, I see every little girl's eyes light up in the doll room.  Changing their clothes is the number one way all the girls love to play when they come to our house.  Even all of Holiday's high school babysitters are in heaven when they get to "play" in the doll room!  Again, I abide by the rule that fewer quality items is better than just having a lot of cheaper stuff.  I know some people have a hard time getting over the cost of the American Girl Doll outfits,  however, from a collector's standpoint, the outfits are often much more valuable than the dolls.  I have purchased several Our Generation outfits just because they were cute and inexpensive, however I've had issues with every last one.  They just aren't cut for American Girl dolls.  I'm sure there are some that work just fine, but I've found myself having to cut the sleeves of the jacket to work or the boots being unusable because they won't fit on an AG doll foot. You also have to be careful with some of the cheaper doll clothes which can stain and bleed onto the doll's "skin" and bodies.  I have just quit buying anything other than American Girl brand for doll clothing.  Watch for sales and stock up when they have them!

One disclaimer- some of the American Girl outfits are made with delicate silk and lace-- they are gorgeous and period correct.  However, the Velcro on nearly every clothing piece is the enemy! 

FURNITURE AND LARGER ACCESSORIES:  If you're in the market for a larger accessory, I would suggest buying a doll bed first.  This is a main way all little girls love to play with their dolls.  All of the AG doll beds are gorgeous (Samantha's and Kit's are my favorites!) Kit's retired bed is actually my preference over the newer model.  I purchased a brand new, retired Kit bed on Amazon for around the same cost as the current Kit bed. 

Another favorite large accessory is Maryellen's Diner.  It is pricey, but the play value on this piece (as discussed above) is SO open-ended.  For other accessories, consider buying around what your daughter is really into.  Holiday rides English Horseback-- consequently, we have the stable and two AG horses that are played with daily in our home. I actually purchased the Our Generation stable a few years back.  It is pink and adorable!  However, in order for the big horses to fit, we have to use the corral.  The quality of the Our Generation corral is terrible, it constantly pops off (though the horse barn itself is well made).  Consequently, we have combined the corral from the AG set to the front of the OG horse barn.  It works for our play and looks cute, it's just another example of why I prefer to buy American Girl brand over the less expensive options which are lacking in quality.  

Over the past few years, we've collected the accessory/ furniture sets for the activities/ lessons Holiday participates in on a weekly basis.  In addition to horseback riding, we have an American Girl piano, gymnastics set and ballet set.  Often in the afternoons, the dolls are all dressed and set up at their various lessons!  

  Any of the school sets also make great open-ended accessories.  Maryellen has a school set that you can see here.  It features an easel with chalkboard, map, pointer and flashcards.  Nearly all of the BeForever Dolls have a school outfit and accessories.  The TrulyMe collection has several school sets and accessories as well! If you're a collector like me, I have tracked down retired Samantha school desks (2) for Holiday for Christmas.  In general, my rule of thumb is to always buy accessories that are open-ended, that can be played with in a variety of ways.  

A new item this season for American Girl is the Gourmet Kitchen Set!  Another amazing, open-ended toy.  We actually already owned Kit's retired Cookstove, but we added the new refrigerator recently added to Maryellen's collection.  The refrigerator is darling with tons of nostalgic flare and amazing food accessories!  (Note:  the quality of the included TV trays is subpar in my opinion, but don't let that detract you from the main attraction which is certainly the fridge!) 

For the Bitty Baby collection, the Doll Cradle and Changing Table are absolutely gorgeous, wooden, heirloom quality pieces.  I'm a big fan of retired Bitty Baby clothing items and have found quite a few on eBay.  I love American Girl Wiki- you can research all retired items so you know exactly what you want to look for on eBay.  I have been fortunate to find all of the ones I've looked for-- generally all under the $40 range.  Bitty Babies, through 2010, came with Bitty Bear which is an adorable accessory.  The older Bitty Baby clothing sets almost always came with a toy for Bitty Baby and accessories for Bitty Bear as well-- so you can really get a lot of value for the money with the retired sets!  This is an example of a retired Bitty Baby Halloween set we have-- look at all the great extras that came with it! 

WELLIE WISHERS:  As stated above, I'm not as crazy about the quality of the Wellie Wishers collection.  It is very common for Bitty Baby and Bitty Twin items to be made out of plastic.  However, they are generally a very heavy duty plastic, but with Wellie Wishers being smaller, their accessories aren't as heavy duty, in my opinion.  A friend was just telling me her daughter received the WW table and chair set and it constantly tips over.  It's just not ideal for a doll line geared towards younger girls.  That being said, I am highly impressed with the Wellie Wishers Playhouse.  We have seen and played with it many times in the store and I did purchase it for Christmas.  

PETS:  The American Girl pets are also totally adorable and all of the little girls in our family seem to love them!  

OUR DOLL ROOM 

I will share some pictures of our Doll Room.  Many of you know of my love for decorating-- this room is NOT decorated (yet) but it is organized well!  

This is the entrance door coming into the Doll Room, Wellie Wishers are there in the corner

This is the entrance door coming into the Doll Room, Wellie Wishers are there in the corner

Wellie Wishers are currently right inside the door.  Planning to put the Wellie Wishers Playhouse here after Christmas 

Wellie Wishers are currently right inside the door.  Planning to put the Wellie Wishers Playhouse here after Christmas 

Ikea Expedit series is the holy grail of doll room storage!  Each of the historical dolls have their own plastic container with their shoes and accessories- like headbands, purses, jewelry, things like that.  There are also large plastic containers for  all of the Truly Me shoes, Bitty Baby shoes, etc.  This is also where we keep furniture pieces that she can swap in and out of her AG doll house.  To the right is the carriage (the horse can attach to it) and the AG stable combined with the Our Generation horse barn 

Ikea Expedit series is the holy grail of doll room storage!  Each of the historical dolls have their own plastic container with their shoes and accessories- like headbands, purses, jewelry, things like that.  There are also large plastic containers for  all of the Truly Me shoes, Bitty Baby shoes, etc.  This is also where we keep furniture pieces that she can swap in and out of her AG doll house.  To the right is the carriage (the horse can attach to it) and the AG stable combined with the Our Generation horse barn 

This is the dollhouse my dad lovingly built for Holiday last year (with lots of help from Mimi too!)  Although he added a ton of custom details, he used the Ana White Dollhouse plans that you can find here.  The estimated cost to build, according to the site is $100, however, we found it to be more in the $200-300 range, depending on the quality of materials used.  

Y'all know I'm OBSESSED with the Carolina Activity Table and Carts from Pottery Barn Kids.  It's SO super useful for doll play so whatever Holiday is really focused on can be elevated and set apart to a great play height.  In the left cart is all of her American Girl Spa accessories while the right bin houses all of her AG pets and their accessories. 

Y'all know I'm OBSESSED with the Carolina Activity Table and Carts from Pottery Barn Kids.  It's SO super useful for doll play so whatever Holiday is really focused on can be elevated and set apart to a great play height.  In the left cart is all of her American Girl Spa accessories while the right bin houses all of her AG pets and their accessories. 

This is our wardrobe for historical dolls and the TrulyMe clothes as well.  It's hard to tell from this picture, but I use these wooden hangers I purchase here.  The bookcase is from Target (find it here) and it's a piece I already had, otherwise I would've bought the taller version.  More storage can never hurt for accessories or items not played with as often.  In order to hang the clothes- I used small, thin tension rods from Home Depot, though I think this one could work well.  You just need to get one that is at least the width of the interior of the bookcase, so double check your measurements if you plan to order.  Also, I felt like the weight of the clothes on the tension rod would be a constant issue, making it fall, so I secured both ends of the tension rod (attaching to the bottom of the shelf over each rod) with these cup hooks.  

All of the beautiful hats on the top shelf are from the BeForever line.  I have them displayed on top of table card holders I found at Michaels.  They are metal, heavy and weighted.  They do tip over sometimes with there's a lot of play going on, but I love how they look displayed on the wardrobe.  

Inside the closet of the doll room, we have all things Bitty Baby-- we call it the Nursery!  

Bitty Baby's Toy Box is on the far right.  Retired Bitty Baby crib (though the current Bitty Baby cradle available is darling).  Bitty Baby's Changing Table in the center.  

Bitty Baby's Toy Box is on the far right.  Retired Bitty Baby crib (though the current Bitty Baby cradle available is darling).  Bitty Baby's Changing Table in the center.  

On the right side we have Bitty's Travel Seat another heirloom wooden cradle I've had for years and a wooden doll high chair.  

On the right side we have Bitty's Travel Seat another heirloom wooden cradle I've had for years and a wooden doll high chair.  

We keep all of the Bitty Clothes here in the nursery.  You can get a better look at the wooden doll hangers here in this picture.  SUPER TIP:  Some of the more delicate, silk doll dresses like to slip off the hangers.  To keep this from happening, I use the itty bitty rubber hair bands.  I wrap them around the ends of the hanger arms and it creates a little grip to keep them from slipping off!  

We keep all of the Bitty Clothes here in the nursery.  You can get a better look at the wooden doll hangers here in this picture.  SUPER TIP:  Some of the more delicate, silk doll dresses like to slip off the hangers.  To keep this from happening, I use the itty bitty rubber hair bands.  I wrap them around the ends of the hanger arms and it creates a little grip to keep them from slipping off!  

I hope you enjoyed our little tour.  I will do an updated post once I decorate the Doll Room as well as the Doll House itself!  

Feel free to ask any American Girl questions (please don't ask for coupon codes) below and I will do my best to answer all of your questions!  Also be sure to visit us on Facebook! 

Christmas Top Toy Picks: THE BEST OF

 

Earlier this year, I read the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.  This has completely changed how I make decisions about what toys have stayed in our home as well as what new toys come into the house.  A main tenant of Kondo's book is surrounding yourself with only the possessions which truly spark JOY for you!  

As a result of this great, little book- I have done some MAJOR toy purging over the past year.  Holiday worked alongside me for much of it and we cleaned/donated/organized/sold our way down to the toys that she loves and plays with constantly.  Toys that spark real JOY for her! So you will definitely see some repeats from previous years on this list.  However, these are toys I believe are worth repeating.  Toys that are well-loved and played with on a continual basis.

I've found there are a few characteristics that all of the best toys have: 1- they look beautiful, 2- they are made of superior quality with superior products, 3- they are open-ended, meaning they can be played with in a large variety of ways, limited only by the imagination!  

Something magical happens when you pare down the toys in your home to what your children truly love-- THEY PLAY MORE! There are items which Holiday played with on occasion and liked, but weren't the most beloved.  What I found is that by clearing away the "Liked Toys" or "Rarely Played With Toys" and making more room for the "Well Loved Toys" results in MORE enjoyment, more fun and more hours spent playing. 

I will have a 2nd list debuting on the blog in the next week or two!  It will be comprised of learning toys and resources I have found tremendously useful in the classroom!  Stay tuned for that as well my annual list of Top Mama Gift Picks as well! 

1. If You Elevate It, They Will Play

If there were a Top Secret Play Book for Parenting, this play would top this list!  Wave a magic wand over toys that see only occasional play and they will take center stage when you elevate toys to a more kid-friendly play height.  I'm so obsessed with this table, we currently have two (one in the playroom and a second in the doll room) and I'm about to purchase a third to use as a coffee table in our Homeschool Room.  Pottery Barn Kids has several versions of this Carolina Play Table.  My favorite is the regular Activity Table which has a raised lip all the way around it- perfect for catching rolling crayons and keeping tiny Legos contained.  There is also the Extra Large Activity table (top right, gray) as well as the Grow With Me Carolina Play Table.  This one does not have the lip (think more regular play table), has drawers and also has extendable legs to start out low to the ground and eventually elevate to a kid-sized table with chairs.  If those aren't enough options for you, there is also a craft option with an attachable paper roll!  This table is perfect for train play, doll houses, American Girl themed play, crafts, Legos, puzzles and more!  TIP: If you think a table might not be a hit under the Christmas tree, think of creative ways to stage it-- as an arts and crafts table with paper roll and new art supplies in the bin.  Or maybe stage it with existing Lego set, train set or puzzles! 

Pottery Barn Kids Carolina Activity Table & Rolling Carts

Pottery Barn Kids Grow With Me Carolina Table

Pottery Barn Kids Carolina Craft Table

2.  Camp Holiday Teepee

Through our many toy purges, I have re-staged Holiday's Play Room around the toys that she loves most and quite a few camping theme toys won top honors for "Most Played With!" 

FIRST, you'll need a teepee.  This specific one in Holiday's Play Room is from StudioOFWhimsy on Etsy.  It is still available for purchase, however, it does not come with any poles.  I'm including a list of current favorites below, all of them come with all of the pieces and poles.  Several of these distributors are international, but once you factor in shipping costs, the prices are comparable high-quality versions made here in the states.  All toys are not created equally-- you can definitely get an inexpensive teepee at many "big box" stores these days, but higher quality, heavier weight fabrics really do make a difference. 

TOP LEFT from FUNwithMUM on Etsy

 TOP RIGHT from Land of Nod

BOTTOM LEFT from PlayTeepee on Etsy

BOTTOM RIGHT from Mama Potrafi, on Etsy

3.  Day Trip Plush Canoe 

When I first spotted this plush canoe in the Land of Nod catalog, I knew we HAD to have it!  Fortunately, Holiday is in the thing at some point nearly everyday.  It's become one of her favorite spots to curl up with a book or to enjoy ipad time.  It couldn't be more adorable and young and old children, alike, love playing in it anytime they come to visit!  

 The Land of Nod Day Trip Plush Canoe

4.  S'more the Merrier Campfire Set 

Still an absolute favorite, always played with toy set- worth every penny!  This one generally sells out well before Christmas, so don't wait too long to order! The Land of Nod S'more the Merrier Campfire Set

5.  Sleeping Bags 

I've featured the Pottery Barn Kids Shaggy Dog Sleeping Bags in previous posts.  Holiday still loves her's as well as the doll version.  If we didn't already have that sleeping bag, I would definitely be looking at one of these adorable sleeping bags from Chasing Fireflies. 

6.  Super Comfy Bean Bag Chair 

Of course we all love the Pottery Barn Kids Anywhere Chairs, but truth be told, Holiday uses her PBK Bean Bag WAY more often.  It is her chair of choice for cuddling, watching TV, iPad time or quite reading.  This Faux Fur Bean Bag Chair is available here from Pottery Barn Kids

7.  Dollhouse 

Holiday received the Pottery Barn Kids Westport Dollhouse for her first Christmas.  I slowly bought furniture sets for it so by the time she was able to really play with it, she had all the makings of a lovely, petite home.  The challenge with the PBK dollhouses is that while the houses themselves are GORGEOUS, the doll options aren't that spectacular, the furniture is so-so.  While Holiday does like the doll set from PBK, more often than not, her dollhouse is full of Calico Critter families.  The 1:12 dollhouse furniture PBK sells is a decent size for Calico Critters. You can use the PBK dollhouse furniture or chose from a great selection of Hape or Plan Toys dollhouse furniture on Amazon.  OR incorporate the Calico Critter furniture sets.  

TOP LEFT Calico Sandy Cat Family

 TOP RIGHT Calico Critters Kozy Kitchen 

BOTTOM LEFT Calico Critters Baby's Nursery

BOTTOM RIGHT Calico Critters Red Panda Family

8.  Heirloom Red Play Barn 

Holiday received this barn for her 4th Birthday and it is a favorite toy in our home.  Granted, she is very into horseback riding and loves to be on the farm or in the stables.  I love this barn because it is something I envision keeping for my own grandchildren one day.  I purchased this from Jacob's Wooden Toys on Etsy.  Look around his shop, he has some other awesome doll houses, furniture sets and accessories including an adorable campfire set!  Holiday has collected quite a few of the Schleich play animals that she uses in her barn. 

TOP LEFT Schleich World of Nature Farm Animals Series 1

TOP RIGHT Schleich Icelandic Pony Mare

BOTTOM LEFT Schleich Feed Set

BOTTOM RIGHT Schleich My First Farm Set of Babies

9.  Play Kitchen 

Holiday received the Pottery Barn Kids Retro Play Kitchen for her first birthday.  I feel this PBK set is superior to any of the all-in-one sets or the character plastic ones because of its size.  If you have the space for a big set, the scale of this set can accommodate a child up to age 10.  Older children play with this set all the time at our house!  Of course, I keep it well stocked with a lot of fun play foods too.  I highlighted a lot of my favorite play foods on this list here.  

As with all of the items on this list, the Pottery Barn Kids Retro Kitchen remains on this list because it's one of those toys that is played with regularly!  There are several other large-scale play kitchen styles to choose from at PBK as well as two other color options for the Retro Kitchen.  

10.  Kitchen Table & Chairs 

Of course if you're cooking up lots of yummy food in the kitchen, you'll need a place to eat all of your plastic, felt and wooden goodies!  If you've been around The Well Styled Child blog for awhile, you may have seen pictures of Holiday's vintage bistro table and chairs set that's in her bedroom. My mom salvaged the vintage set from a yard sale and re-finished the set for Holiday's nursery.  I love the small scale, round table so I'm including purchasing information for this Finley Play Table from Pottery Barn Kids.  There are matching chair options or check out the Bistro Chairs as well! 

11.  Grocery Stand 

Of course if you're going to cook all of this food, you're also going to need to make regular trips to the market for ingredients.  This Play Shop and Theater from The Great Little Trading Company is the #1 Favorite Toy of every child who comes to visit our home.  Just in the past week, an 11 year old boy and 10 year old girl both told me it was their favorite and both asked for it for Christmas!  A few years back while I was on the search for the best Grocery Stand, I stumbled across this one from The Great Little Trading Company, London.  There is a flat rate shipping charge that is right around $100.  However, when I ordered, my Play Shop arrived in just 2 days via DHL in-home delivery.  They have so many other cute toys and accessories, the shipping charge is the same no matter how much you order.  Be sure to convert pounds to dollars when configuring price.  This Play Shop/ Theater is ON SALE right now!  Even with shipping, the price works out to be comparable to other grocery stands available in the US (and not nearly as cute or fun, in my opinion!) Also, this grocery stand is on casters (which can lock), but you can turn the grocery stand around to transform it into a very fun puppet theater!  

Here's a picture (above) of Holiday's Grocery Stand.  The sign is from Hobby Lobby.  Links to by favorite foods to stock your Grocery Stand with are below!  I recommend getting two sets of the eggs and milk.  The fruits and vegetables on my pic above are all from Melissa and Doug, find them here

TOP LEFT  Land of Nod Wooden Fridge Foods

TOP RIGHT Pottery Barn Kids Velcro Egg Set

BOTTOM LEFT Pottery Barn Kids Milk Bottles Set

BOTTOM RIGHT Land of Nod Wooden Pantry Foods

Melissa and Doug Grocery Cart- I still think this is the best grocery cart on the market, for the price!  

BigJigs Village Shop

As stated above, we have the Play Shop Theater from The Great Little Trading Company.  However, BigJigs is a toy company that I love for great quality toys and they have this new Village Shop recently made available in the US! Another great option for a fun grocery store.  

12.  Sing Along CD Player

 I'm not sure why this Sing Along CD Player doesn't get more stars/ better reviews on Amazon?!  It is in constant use at our house and has been so for the past 4 years without any issues!  It also comes in a red version!  

13.  Sing Star Microphone in Pink 

Another toy that is in constant rotation in our home is this Sing Star Microphone.  You can connect your phone or MP3 player to it to play music through the microphone.  There are are also buttons that you can push with your foot for crowd cheers and other fun sound effects! 

14. PonyCycle 

PonyCycle first debuted my Christmas Top Picks List in 2013.  It still remains a beloved toy in our home and well worth the investment.  Children from 3-9 (up to 90 lbs) can safely ride the size Medium Pony Cycle!  No batteries or electricity needed.  Super smooth rollerblade wheels glide across surfaces surfaces (without scratching), while children gently bounce to keep it moving!  Pony Cycle is available in a variety of colors/ animals. 

TOP LEFT Pony Cycle Dark Horse, Size Medium

TOP RIGHT Pony Cycle Zebra, Size Medium

BOTTOM LEFT Pony Cycle Unicorn, Size Medium

BOTTOM RIGHT Pony Cycle Light Horse, Size Medium

 

15.  iPad Mini 4 

I asked my husband David if I was missing any of the toys that get played with constantly at our home and he thought I would be remiss to not mention the iPad Mini 4!!!  Holiday had inherited my first generation iPad but we upgraded her to the Mini 4 for our many travels and it was been a truly worthwhile purchase.  We have it stocked full of fun learning games/apps as well as links to Disney Jr and Nick Jr.  Of course I'm always working overtime to budget her screen time!  I will also link our favorite, kid-friendly, shock-proof case below!  

Bunny Basket Bonanza 2016

Last year for Easter I did a Cinderella themed basket for Holiday.  I got so much positive feedback via social media, I decided to do my annual Easter basket post organized into themes this year!  There are lots of great new products in the mix this year and I tried to stretch myself to find more fun things for the little boys in your life.  Just click on the corresponding numbers below each theme collage to take you to direct links to purchase!  I hope this is a one stop shop for you and makes your Easter baskets easy, fun and exciting!