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Schleich - Wild Animals

Schleich is a German toy and figurine producer, headquartered in Germany, with the majority of their sales in Europe, though Canadian and American sales are growing. Their toys are modeled from nature, and meticulously handpainted. They are beautiful, and lifelike, except for the size, of course. Schleich makes many figurines including farm, wild, and sea animals.

While we don’t strictly adhere to Montessori principles, there is much I conceptually agree with, including that play and work objects should provide a real sense of the world (when possible) and that when introducing an object, it is better to introduce first the Real Thing prior to showing a two-dimensional or caricature of Said Object. This is not always practical, but, for example, we pulled out the Whale after a trip to Sea World and seeing Shamu.

Schleich - Sea Animals

And I don’t know, but given the choice, aren’t Schleich’s walrus and penguin far superior than the ones here? Oh, we have those too, mind you, I’m just saying these are far more beautiful and realistic.

They are not cheap. This here lamb (sized 5.7 x 2.5 x 4.5 cm) was $2.49 and the killer whale (sized 22.0 x 9.3 x 9.8 cm) was $12.99. Almost all the animals are between 2-6 inches and most are in the $6-$8 range. So yeah, multiply that times God’s creation and you could spend a fortune if you wanted to. However, we see these as long-term, multi-purpose toys.

Schleich - Farm Animals

When it wasn’t hot as hell outside, we’d go to the zoo and then reinforce object permanence by identifying the animals at home. We also use them to describe colors (look at the brown cow! this is a black and white whale!), and to mimic the animals’ sounds. Well, some of them anyway. I mean, the hippo? No. By the way, you should hear Harper’s lion or Mateo’s monkey sounds. Could make a hardened criminal pee his pants.

In the coming months, we can use to practice sorting as in farm or woodland or sea life. They can certainly identify them now (Mateo, go get me the Alligator), though naming will come as their language explodes. And we’ll be able to work in classification during play like putting all the different cats together and the horses together. Like blocks, these will truly grow with the child(ren) and provide for hours of imaginative play when the time comes. So… Yeah. Worth it to us.

We’re in collection mode, picking up a couple every few months. I think since I took those pictures a while back, Grandma added a camel and another horse. We have purchased most of ours from the online store and Grandma finds them at an educational toy store in her area. If you prefer to see in person before you buy, you can find a reasonably decent collection at your local Target, or you can find an authorized retailer in your area by using Schleich’s retailer search. Raaaahhhrrrr!

Ready, Set, Go! Cars by Parents Magazine

Our friend Samantha and her son Jake are a blessing, and not just because we get hand-me-overs from them.

In December, they brought a handful of toys and these Parents® Magazine Ready, Set, Go! cars have been the gem of the lot. According to website descriptions, each car has its own personality (the red truck chimes, the yellow taxi squeaks, etc.), but by the time we got them, the sounds were long gone. No matter, though, because what the kids love is the “click click click” of the pull-and-go action that sends them zooming to the other side of the room.
These cars are rated from 12-36 months, but I have proof that they keep 420 month olds entertained, as well.

Both Mateo and Harper played with them most often in the crawling days, when they were content to just push them backwards with a neverending click click click as they made their way around on their knees. They’re still a favorite in our household and can be found anywhere from the living room, to the thing you trip on in the hallway, to the bath, to the back yard.

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You can find the full set of 4 cars new for under $18 here, though I’ve seen some specialty online toy stores sell them for upwards of $35.

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It was pretty early on in our parenting, somewhere between Day 5 and What-Did-We-Get-Ourselves-Into, when our Pastor, the Reverend Marilyn Meeker-Williams, dropped by to see the babies she would later baptize and to give us a small basket of goodies from a “green baby boutique” called Bebé Verde. Bebé Verde partners with manufacturers that emphasize social responsibility and environmental accountability.

And of course Marilyn would know about this boutique because she’s one of the most eco-conscious, fair-trade minded, peace and justice movement, equality-driven people I’ve ever known. Ever. She walks the talk and lives the walk.

One of the gifts was this Terry Duck Toy by Under The Nile (we also received a similar Frog Toy for Mateo). These little toys retail for between $11 and $14 and are made and stuffed with 100% organic Egyptian cotton. They are light weight for brand new wee ones, a little under seven inches long, and you can just toss in the washing machine to clean.

Ours sat up on a shelf where we keep other stuffed animals until one day I excused myself to “go to the bathroom” where I instead sat on a closed-lid toilet while reading a Daily Devotional, Parents Magazine, and US Weekly. Yeah? So what. Don’t tell me you don’t hide in the bathroom sometimes.

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the frog with a 3 1/2 month old Harper.

One article reminded me about giving a baby a damp cloth to chew on instead of a plastic gel- or water-filled toy. What with two kids who are speed-teethers, I just ran the Duck and Frog under the faucet for a bit and tossed them into the freezer for 5 minutes. After that, I handed them over to the kiddos as a teething toy.

Even now, it’s cute to see them walk around with a duck or frog swinging side-to-side from their mouths (plus, it sure beats plastic bags, tubes of Desitin, or water bottle caps). I’ve also been known to toss them into the bath and play Quack! Quack! Quack! or Ribbit! Ribbit! while also using them as a pseudo-wash cloth. Anything to distract a toddler while still managing to get them bathed.

Barclay Woods Premium Hard Maple Unit Blocks

I spent quite a bit of time researching which blocks to get. I know, shocker. We finally decided on a starter set called the Barclay Blocks Premium Maple Baby Wooden Unit Block Kit A (on the Barclay site known as “BAB07/BABKIT-Version AA”), which consists of 43 pieces in 19 shapes. We purchased ours from KidBean.com, an eco-friendly website, for just under $77. Yes, that’s about $1.77 per block and that seems outrageous, but here’s the thing: AMORTIZATION.

By no means do I assume that higher price equals higher quality, but in the case of wood blocks, its just true. And I don’t mind paying a lot for something that will last a long time. Quality blocks have always been expensive, but if you calculate the amount of play for the dollar, they are actually quite inexpensive. Kids will develop some interest in blocks around a year – holding the shapes, feeling the texture, figuring out what a triangle tastes like. As the months and years pass, they’ll stack them, identify them, and later build elaborate structures from their imaginations. We’re talking easily 8 years of entertainment, if not more. And that comes out to less than a buck a month.

A week before the kids’ party, I was telling my dad that we had ordered these blocks as a first birthday present. He offered to write a check for the blocks, which we gladly accepted. Saved him a trip, and it purchased a quality toy we wanted for the kids. Ka. Ching.

Also, not all wood is wood, and if it says “hardwood”, they might be lying. Some manufacturers of wood blocks aren’t selling wood blocks at all. It’s pressed particleboard. And that’s why they sell so cheap. If you’re looking for blocks to serve a short-term purpose and you don’t mind having to toss them out and buy new ones later, then by all means get the cheap stuff. For example, we bought a pressed “wood” dresser from Ikea awhile back for less than $100. I don’t expect it to last forever, but IT IS SERVING ITS SHORT-TERM PURPOSE. Blocks, though? We want to be able to watch our grandkids play with them.

Some manufacturers tout that their blocks are “hardwood”, when in fact they are not. Don’t be fooled. There are lots of different kinds of wood but Barclay blocks are made from high quality wood and our premium blocks have been made from hand picked American Rock Maple.

Some manufactuers produce so many other products they just can’t be bothered with quality WORKMANSHIP. They might lack uniformity in the cuts, or use softer woods vulnerable to blemishes and splintering. Barclay blocks are not coated with anything, have rounded corners, and they are hand-sanded on the ends and edges. Barclay’s has an unconditionally guarantee and they are so sure as to workmanship and materials that they will replace cracked or broken blocks for free.

We keep our blocks stored in a cotton gauze drawstring produce bag nestled in a toddler-level bookshelf in the living room. I chose these bags because they are thin (offering transparency to the kids to see what is in the bag), durable (can be machine washed), and multi-functional (we can use them for their intended purpose at any time).

At 12-13 months, we enjoy watching the kids stack two to three blocks. But mostly, they enjoy knocking down the things we build. I like toys that inspire imagination from within, instead of some prescribed way of doing things. Blocks will allow them to play freely, and will assure them smaller bruises as they take to throwing things at one another.

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You can find reviews of our other favorite products at the bottom of this post over yonder.

Yookidoo Swap N' Go Snail

This is the Yookidoo Swap N’ Go Snail (ages 6 months +) by International Playthings. We purchased it here for $34.00 though I believe it’s selling for less these days.

Back when the kids were in daycare, I’d pick them up in the evenings and Mateo always had a hold of this snail. The teachers told me it was his favorite toy ever and since in six months of living he was more good than bad, Santa brought it for Christmas.

When you push down on it’s tail (teaches cause and effect), the Swap N’ Go Snail has a memorable little ditty as it rolls forward (requires 3 AA batteries) for about ten seconds, spinning it’s colorful shell as it goes (encouraging crawling or creeping). It’s a rolling, stacking, pulling, pushing, musical toy. Mateo’s favorite thing to do, however, is hold the wheels as it’s running causing it to click click click like a roller coaster heading up that first drop.

We like it because Mateo loves it, because Harper dances to it every time the music starts, and because it’s not so painfully typical.

I was about to off it on Craigslist, but after bringing it out for the photo, it’s again Mateo’s favorite toy.

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You can find reviews of our other favorite products at the bottom of this post over yonder.

More Photos!

The Aforementioned

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