Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Blasting Off To Fun

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. My goal was to be the first female commander of the space shuttle. I even went to Space Camp in seventh grade. Turns out, though, I'm scared of flying, which kind of put a damper on my astronaut dreams. But that love for space and exploring the unknown never left, and I still enjoy watching every shuttle lift-off and landing.

It seems my love of space has been passed on to Cordy. Some of her favorite toys are space-themed, including rockets and aliens. So when the Parent Bloggers Network asked for volunteers to try out the Discovery Store Ready Set Learn! Paz's Lift Off Rocket, I practically begged. OK, I did beg.

When this rocket arrived, it stayed in the box for all of 1.6 seconds. Cordy took one look and demanded we release it from the packaging right away. She played with it for the remainder of the afternoon, lining up the astronauts, exploring the crew quarters inside the rocket, and driving the moon buggy around the living room.

The rocket has a button on the side which produces lights and sound. When it's pointed in a lift-off position, pushing the button results in a voice counting down to lift-off, along with the boosters lighting up red. When the rocket is sideways and the button is pushed, only sounds of the engines are heard, as if it is flying through space. A handle on the side makes it easy for small hands to fly their rocket up, down, and all around.

There are three compartments inside the rocket. A cockpit holds two of the astronauts, and the crew quarters has a pull-down bed for them to sleep on. Below that, the cargo hold stores the moon buggy and the door becomes a ramp to drive the buggy down. Four astronauts are included - all are characters from the Discovery Kids Ready Set Learn! series, including Paz, Dog, Pig, and Rabbit.

Cordy is familiar with Paz, and she knew all of them by name right away. I was happy to see her so interested in the rocket, but expected that her interest would wane, like it does with so many toys. But she still loves this rocket. The first night, she insisted the rocket come to bed with her. And while she doesn't want it every night now, it's still not uncommon to see it in her bed, like last night:

The size of the rocket makes it useful for other toys to "take a ride" on the rocket, too. Her Little People sometimes hitch a ride in the cargo hold, and her Mickey Mouse figure has been known to pilot the rocket on a few missions, while Donald Duck takes a nap on the bed and Minny Mouse mixes up Cosmopolitans in the kitchen. (OK, I was the one playing Minny.)

This is a well-made toy, holding up to some pretty rough play and a few tosses down the stairs. Best of all, the rocket has helped Cordy practice imaginative play. One aspect of her autism is that she has a lot of trouble with imaginative play - she'd rather line things up or stack blocks than put together play scenarios with her toys. But when she plays with rocket, she'll put an astronaut on the bed and saying, "Astronaut Pig is taking a nap!" or drive them around in their moon buggy.

It's awesome to see her making such progress, partially thanks to this toy. Give her a doll house, and she wouldn't know what to do with it - apparently all she needed was a toy that was geared to her interests, and this rocket fits perfectly. When she does engage in imaginative play, the rocket is involved 75% of the time.

Obviously, I highly recommend Paz's Lift-Off Rocket. The price is appropriate for the quality of this toy, and the design encourages repeat play. It is recommended for ages three and up, but I think two year olds would appreciate it, too - the pieces are all big enough to not be dangerous to a toddler.

For us, I have a feeling this rocket will have a place of honor in Cordy's toybox (and her bed) for a long time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rockin' The Day Away With That Baby DVD

Cordy has been obsessed with a certain famous Mouse DVD lately, and well, I'm sick of it. We needed to find something a little more...relaxed. A little less corny. A little more parent friendly.

In my effort to find something we could both watch, I pulled out That Baby DVD (provided by the Parent Bloggers Network), hoping it would distract her away from her current obsession. The DVD has eleven music videos on it, all of which are acoustic covers of songs we parents are familiar with from our rock radio stations, like "These Are The Days" by 10,000 Maniacs, and "Sunday Sun" by Neil Diamond.

Before anything was on the screen, Cordy didn't want to watch and protested. I told her it was time to try something new, and she might like it. She was an unwilling participant in this review at first. But as the first song came on ("Happiness Runs" - one of my new favorite songs), her protests drifted away and she sat down in her chair quietly to watch.

The songs, performed by Stephanie Schneiderman and others, are a little more mellow than their famous counterpart versions, and the music videos are filled with kids dancing and lip syncing, gentle animation, and even puppets. In-between some of the songs are brief lessons in the alphabet and counting. The numbers only went to 10, which I think Cordy was a little disappointed with. I think she wanted to count higher. But Cordy liked repeating the alphabet with the voice on the screen, and it went at a nice, slow pace.

She loved the rest of the DVD, too. While the music was a little too mellow for her to want to get up and dance, she did enjoy watching the children on the screen. (Side note: I'd love to see this company put out a dance DVD!) And I enjoyed the time to sit back and relax to some good music.

After it was over, she immediately asked to watch it again, and has since asked to watch it each day. While she's still asking for the Mouse DVD, too, we have equal requests for both. You can guess which one I'm more willing to give in to - That Baby DVD is by far more pleasing to my ears and eyes. You can view a clip of it here to see what I mean.

I also appreciate the fact that the company uses US recycled materials for their products. Plus, if you (or, more likely, your kids) ever scratch or break the disc, they'll replace it free! What other company would do that?

We also received a copy of That Baby CD, which contains the same songs as That Baby DVD, plus three bonus tracks. The CD is great in the car for longer trips. It helps Cordy relax when she's having a hard day, and again, the music is pleasant for me to listen to, also. It's earned a well-deserved permanent place in our car.

Right now That Baby DVD is offering 20% off to readers! Just use the coupon code PBN when ordering. Don't forget that Christmas and Hanukkah are next month - these would make great gifts!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

MotherTalk Review: The Daring Book for Girls

The game I remember most from my childhood was four-square at recess. It was so popular the school had three four-square games painted on the blacktop, with one game of two-square, too. Kids would line up for a chance to get in on the games, with one of the painted box games always reserved for the top players. I was pretty good at the game, but not one of the top players.

Eventually, I found even more exciting things to do with my recess time, including climbing trees, befriending squirrels, and pretending to be a great detective. I never joined in on the games of house that many girls played. Too boring for me - I needed excitement, not drama!

Now that I'm the mother of two girls, I find myself thinking of so many things I want to teach them from my childhood. I used to jot down notes here and there, reminding myself about games I played and places I visited that I want them to know about, too.

I can throw out some of those notes, because now there is a book that contains many of these secrets. The Daring Book for Girls, written by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz, is a summary of some of the best information a young girl needs for having a fun childhood and growing into a strong woman.

I knew I was going to like this book when I read the very first page. Among the items the authors list as Essential Gear for a girl are duct tape and a Swiss Army knife. Right there I knew this wasn't going to be a book about tea parties and make-up tips. (Thank goodness!)

Instead, the authors cover a wide variety of topics, with more "girly" stuff right next to stuff that might have given a girl from my youth the label of "tomboy". Seeing how I lived up to that tomboy label as a child, I really enjoyed reading through such topics as building a campfire, making a lemon-powered clock, and knot tying. To be honest, I never knew how to tie good knots - had I known that information as a girl, my makeshift tent for my backyard camping expedition might have remained up all night, instead of nearly smothering me in the middle of the night.

Not only can you learn the best sleepover games and how to make friendship bracelets (see? I said there was some "girly" stuff there, too!), the book also covers topics that will stay with a girl her entire life. Topics we should all know, like how to negotiate a salary, basic first aid, and how to change a tire.

Plus, along with all of the awesome how-to's are several pages detailing famous women from history, including scientists, leaders, and even pirates. There are also lessons on language, giving you a taste of French and Spanish, along with looking for the Greek or Latin root of many English words.

Writing a quick summary of what this book is about is hard to do, because it contains so much. Some pages are filled with fun and frivolous information, others serious and very important, but the transitions between them are effortless and create a well-blended book.

The Daring Book for Girls is the perfect book for any free-spirited girl who would just as soon climb a tree as play with dolls. While my two girls are too young for this book at the moment, I will be sharing this with them as they grow older. I know I'll be reading them stories of famous women, and then in later years pointing them to the book to find an activity whenever the words "I'm bored!" escape their lips.

Maybe they'll decide they want to make sit-upons, just like their mother made at Girl Scout camp. Or maybe they'll want to play four-square, in which case I'll gladly join them for a game. Thanks to MotherTalk for giving me the chance to review a book that will get so much use in our home.