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February 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 2
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Homeschoolers: Crafty Play

New Books and Kits Trick Kids Into Learning


Playing is learning, TDmonthly’s Homeschool Roundtable agreed as they experienced a new approach to a timeless classic with Educational Insights’ PlayFoam, “baked” bath cookies from Kits for Crafts, and read books that are more than just books from innovativeKids.

Roundtable participants were art teacher Lynn Costine, B.A., M.A.T., with Sarah (13 years), Anna (11), Emily (9) and Will (7); Susan Ledford, editor of the "Homeschool Resources Directory for S.C.,” with Victoria (11), Joe (7) and Griffin (1); Julie Petoia, R.N., with Cabot Lee (12), Talia (10), Malynne (9) and Jeremiah, Jacob and Gabriel (5); Alison Shanahan with Elizabeth (14), Emily (12) and Katie (6); and Teresa Wilson, editor of “HOMES Newsletter,” with Timothy (14), Andrew (11), Elise (8) and Steven (6).


PlayFoam by Educational Insights Inc.
Category: Arts and Crafts
Gender: Boys and Girls
Suggested retail: $9.99

TDmonthly Rating:



What it is: Non-toxic remoldable sculpting beads that never dry out.

What the moms thought: “When colors were mixed, it became a multicolored object and did not convert into an unattractive color blend,” Wilson said. Shanahan liked the easy clean-up.

What the children thought: The Costine children said: “I love this because it feels gross!” Joe Ledford (7) liked that PlayFoam has “no sticky or stinky residue.” The Shanahan children noted a difference “in texture and building quality.”

How to improve it:
Victoria (11) suggested sturdier storage and brighter colors. “You can’t see details well,” she noted. Some children found that the pieces adhered to their hands. The Costines would enjoy glitter PlayFoam, too.

Would you want another toy like this? “Everyone loves this!” exclaimed Steven Wilson (6).

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bath Kit and My KFC Recipe Scrapbook by Kits for Crafts
Category: Arts and Crafts
Gender: Girls and Boys
Suggested retail prices: $39.95 and $9.95, respectively

TDmonthly Rating:


What it is: The kit contains everything needed to make 20+ chocolate-chip bath cookies. The scrapbook is for organizing, storing, and reviewing completed Kits for Crafts recipes, and contains puzzles, paper dolls and skin-care tips.

What the moms thought: “The kit had good directions and worked well,” Shanahan said. “Emily (12) was able to do this without adult help.” Wilson liked being able to print labels from the website. Ledford found the scrapbook useful for perusing other available kits, but not as a separate activity; several moms mistook it for a catalog.

What the children thought: The Shanahan girls said the cookies made the bath smell nice. “They look real!” Sarah (13) said.

How to improve it: Several participants thought the finished product looked and smelled too much like real cookies. “Pets, small children and … even adults are at risk of eating these,” said Shanahan. Victoria (11) added a skull-and-crossbones design and “Do Not Eat” on her finished gift bag.

Ledford suggested revamping the scrapbook into a skin-care guide by adding more information on skin care, keeping the puzzles, and omitting the cut-and-paste activities.

Would you want another toy like this one? “Sarah (13) enjoyed making and using these, and has requested similar items,” said Costine. Shanahan added, “We would buy more … if [the finished products] didn’t look and smell so much like food.”


Happy Baby: A Book of Emotions by innovativeKids
Category: Infants & Toddlers
Gender: Girls and Boys
Age: 0 and Up
Suggested retail: $10.99
ISBN: 1-58476-353-1

TDmonthly Rating:


What it is: A book and flashcard set held together by a plush magnetic ring.

What the moms thought: “Babies like looking at babies,” noted Shanahan. Ledford said it’s a nice gift for first-time parents, since it includes tips on reading to babies.

What the children thought: Griffin (16 months) “enjoyed the simple pictures of items he can relate to: a blanket, sippy cup, dog, toy blocks,” she continued.

How to improve it: “All my babies would have wanted to eat the flashcards,” commented Shanahan, who suggested lamination.

Would you want another toy like this one? “Griffin can’t wait to get his hands — and teeth! — on another!” reported his mom.

Now I Know My 1, 2, 3’s by innovativeKids
Category: Infants & Toddlers
Gender: Girls and Boys
Suggested retail: $18.99
ISBN: 1-58476-068-0
Written by Nora Gaydos; Illustrated by Martin Lemelman

TDmonthly Rating:


What it is: A visual and tactile approach to counting that introduces mathematical concepts and provides hands-on practice activities.

What the moms thought: Wilson raved about this resource, and Petoia appreciated the wipe-off writing pages.

What the children thought: Gabriel, Jacob and Jeremiah (5) liked the variety of activities. “Elise (8) especially enjoyed the poems introducing each number,” said mom Wilson.

How to improve it: Shanahan suggested fewer pieces. “This is unnecessarily complicated for a counting book.”

Would you want another toy like this? The different levels make it a good choice for families with multiple children, said Wilson. “It’s a wonderful teaching/review resource.”

Now I’m Reading! Game Board Book from innovativeKids
Category: Educational
Gender: Girls and Boys
Suggested retail: $19.99
ISBN: 1-58476-216-0
Written by Nora Gaydos; Illustrated by BB Sams

TDmonthly Rating:


What it is: An award-winning step-by-step phonics reading system, with games and activities that build reading confidence.

What the moms thought: “I like the variety of games used to reinforce letter recognition and sounds,” said Wilson. “It packs an educational wallop,” noted Ledford.

What the children thought: “Steven (6) liked playing the games to showcase what he has already learned,” said Wilson. Joe (7) said, “Playing games is a fun way of doing school work.”

How to improve it: Shanahan recommended sturdier storage and fewer pieces.

Would you want another toy like this? The Wilson family is eager: “Can we play another one?” asked Steven (6).

Milly’s Silly Suitcase by innovativeKids
Category: Books
Gender: Girls and Boys
Age: 4 to 5
Suggested retail: $6.99
ISBN: 1-58476-476-7
Written by Tish Rabe; Illustrated by Marilyn Janovitz

TDmonthly Rating:


What it is: A level-1 reader with 24 two-piece rebus puzzles in an attached storage box.

What the moms thought: Wilson said, “This had a cute story, delightful rhyming text, and I love the matching rebus puzzles.”

What the children thought: “After reading this, we discussed times we had packed our suitcases and forgotten something,” she continued. “Then we played an alphabet game where each person named an object to be packed for vacation.”

How to improve it: Everyone liked this product as is.

Would you want another toy like this? “Can I do it again?” asked Katie (6). All agreed it makes learning to read fun.

Clue School: The Case of the Missing Cat by innovativeKids
Category: Books
Gender: Boys and Girls
Age: 7 and Up
Suggested retail: $6.99
ISBN: 1-58476-479-1
Written by Cathy Hapka; Illustrated by Richard Torrey

TDmonthly Rating:


What it is: A level-4 reader with a companion 64-piece puzzle.

What the moms thought: “Really fun!” said Costine. Wilson commented, “I liked how the story engaged their thinking skills.”

What the children thought: Andrew (11) said this book is “both brain on and hands on.”

How to improve it: Costine would like a longer version. “Thicker puzzle pieces would be easier to manage for a 6-year-old’s hands,” Shanahan added.

Would you want another toy like this? All agreed that kids love mysteries and moms like items that stimulate thinking skills in a fun way.

Math Gear: Multiplication Fast Facts by innovativeKids
Category: Books
Gender: Boys and Girls
Suggested retail: $7.99
ISBN: 1-58476-362-4

TDmonthly Rating:


What it is: A hand-sized lift-the-flaps book that helps kids learn multiplication tables.

What the moms thought: “Anything that makes math interesting is good,” said Costine.

What the children thought: “Katie (6) enjoyed playing this with me and on her own,” said Shanahan. Joe (7) was disappointed he couldn’t use the book with his homework. The Wilson children liked the fun design.

How to improve it: Nobody had ideas for improvement.

Would you want another toy like this? The Wilson children devised several games and took it on car trips. It makes memorizing multiplication tables fun.

Phonics Comics: The Misfits by innovativeKids
Category: Books
Gender: Girls and Boys
Suggested retail: $3.99
ISBN: 1-58476-421-X
Written by Kimber MacDonald; Illustrated by Wilson Swain

TDmonthly Rating:


What it is: A comic-book phonics reader, featuring a trio of orphans who “can’t seem to stay out of trouble.”

What the moms thought: Wilson and Ledford appreciated the graphic-novel format, but Ledford was concerned about the content. “This was just awful,” agreed Costine. “Dark,” commented Shanahan. Petoia thought the story was too disturbing for the reading level.

What the children thought: “Cool, comics!” raved the Wilson boys. Shanahan said, “Katie (6) loved it. … I fear she believes wrong things about orphanages; however, it does encourage reading.” Cabot Lee (12) told her mother, “This is so disturbing and wrong.” The Costine children asked, “What’s wrong with these people?”

How to improve it: Petoia suggested marketing the book to children who are “old enough for the Lemony Snicket books, but do not have the reading skills to keep up with their peers.”

Would you want another toy like this? Three families would not, because of the content. They do hope to see more comics-based phonics readers, but with improved, age-appropriate storylines.

Code Master: Rain Forest Adventure by innovativeKids
Category: Books
Gender: Girls and Boys
Suggested retail: $19.99
ISBN: 1-58476-211-X
Written by Susan Ring; Illustrated by John Patrick and John Buerling

TDmonthly Rating:


What it is: Kids learn facts about the rainforest and its flora, fauna and indigenous people while they solve more than 25 puzzles and challenges that crack a code to unlock a box containing games, stickers, a journal and more.

What the moms thought: Ledford appreciated the unique combination of factual reading and games. “Innovative indeed!” exclaimed Wilson. “These word problems (cloaked as clues) had the children clamoring to solve them.”

What the children thought: Victoria (11) said, “It teaches about the rainforest and its inhabitants in a fun way.”

How to improve it: Victoria would prefer a sturdier board, “so it lasts through more play.”

Would you want another toy like this? “Mom, they have two more! Can we get them, pleeeeeeease?” begged the Wilsons. “It’s a perfect addition to any homeschool and would make a terrific gift!” raved their mom.



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Susan LedfordWriter's Bio: Susan Ledford is the writer, editor and publisher of the "Homeschool Resources Directory for S.C."  She has been evaluating toys and games for TDmonthly's Roundtable reviews since 2005. She also is a homeschool veteran of seven years. Read more articles by this author

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