Orange Marmalade 2018 Non-Electronic Gift Guide: investigate! build! invent! imagine!

Today — a fountain of toys, projects, kits, and clubs so full of juice and joy I’d be happy to see them under the Christmas tree with my name on the tag!

I’ll steer you to a few sites you’ll want to explore further, as well as including Amazon links for many items.
If you click on any of these links before ordering whatever-in-the-world you want from Amazon, I get a little dab from them.  I appreciate those of you who make the effort to do that for me during the holiday season!

Ages 0-3

Beyond the real world around them — grass, clouds, dogs, potatoes, elbows, toes, voices, birdsong, and the taste of everything in reach…

…little curious persons do best with open-ended toys that encourage exploration, experimentation, improvisation. With no artificial intelligence supplied! Just their own brilliance!

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The Oball has lots of holes for tiny fingers to grip making it an ace first rolling, catching, chasing, throwing, batting, spinning, ball.

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Lalabooms are colorful, textured beads that snap, twist, or lace together again and again.

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Uncle Goose Classic ABC Blocks
Classic wooden blocks decorated with letters, numbers, animals. Making towers and knocking them down is still immensely satisfying and hilarious for tiny persons!


Corolle — Maria

Wee Baby Stella
Wonder Crew Superhero Buddy
Dolls for all.  Corolle makes such beautiful dolls, like the small, soft Maria, perfect for a very young child.  I also loved the deep mahogany skin tone of Wee Baby Stella. Too many “brown-skinned dolls” are mighty pale.  Let’s celebrate brown skin! And the Wonder Crew dolls are awesome for boys. They come in a variety of ethnic/skin tones and cool extra outfits so explore for more choices if that’s an interest.

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Nesting Blocks
Stacking blocks are useful for far more than stacking. Nesting. Building. Housing small stuffed lovies. These woodland blocks are charming.

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Here I am again with another choice from Green Toys. The seacopter has fill-and-spill pontoons, moving rotors, and a pilot bear. Awesome for tubs, beaches, pools.

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Tin Tea Set & Carry Case
Tea sets are dandy. What could be better than biscuits and apple juice?  This woodland set will suit both boys or girls for many a merry party.

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I’m positive you already know about Duplos, the younger cousins of Legos. Ours were used endlessly! There are soooo many add on options to the basic set.

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Farm Animals
Plastic animals are tried and true items for hours of pretend play.  Schleich makes such nice ones, including this farm set.

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Rainbow Friends Peg Dolls
Here’s a rainbow of wooden people to populate block towers, dollhouses, march along windowsills, tag along with Duplo people. So cheery!


These dandy bug binoculars are great for catching and peering at a wide variety of interesting critters! Not just bugs! Worms, snails, efts, crawdads, will all pose nicely, before being released back to their small woodsy lives.

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Quercetti Saxoflute
This jammin’ saxoflute contains 24 tubes, mouthpieces, and trumpet bells that your child can connect with twists, turns, and bends for a wacky fun musical instrument. Then take it apart and invent a new one!

Ages 3-6

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Cardboard boxes are dynamite playthings.  If you want a Whole Lot More for supplying your rocket, fort, and tower-builders, check out Gigi blocks.

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Wooden Castle Building Blocks
Add these castle shapes to your wooden block collection for extra fanciful structural options! 150 pieces.

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Blockitecture Big City
The stylish elements in the blockitecture city have so much potential.  My kids would have added these to their elaborate landscapes along their Brio train route.

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Story Box Circus
This charming circus set also looks full of scope for the imagination, including yet another stop along the train track.

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Hape Quadrilla Wooden Marble Run
Here’s a marble run that features a delightful bonus — musical chimes for the balls to ching along the way! This and others of the Quadrilla sets from Hape in Germany are pricier than the plastic marble runs but they look gorgeous.

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Gears Gears Gears!
Engineer all sorts of contraptions with this boatload of colorful gears, plus a propeller, treads, and wrecking ball just to make things sizzle a bit more! Includes instructions for some constructions and oodles of possibilities for free-range designing.

I adore Maileg’s Hiker Mouse!   He comes equipped with a keen sleeping bag. Ahhhh.  A tent and other extras are sold separately. If your kids are into tiny things — mine certainly were! — Maileg also has this sweet Little Sister Mouse and her cozy matchbox bed. Lots of potential here for fabricating clothes, accessories, wee houses, and more with these guys.

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Candy Lab is making some swell, retro vehicles for your cars-and-trucks collection, including this Aspen with a canoe that magnetically attaches to the roof.  Perfect for those camping adventures!

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The Loopy Lou promises hours and hours of fun.  Handcrafted in Brooklyn, you can record a 30 second message and play it back, altering the voice by increasing or decreasing the speed. It even has a little red flag to raise signaling that a new message has been left. Battery operated but not digital.  Brilliant and cool.

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The Little Book of Backyard Bird Songs
Learning the particular voices of birds is an immensely satisfying, lifelong joy. This book features high-quality recordings of twelve bird songs from some of the best-known backyard birds in North America: House Wren, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, Great Horned Owl, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, American Crow, Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Killdeer, American Robin, and Mourning Dove. Read a bit about each one, learn his song, and recognize it in the wild.

Ages 6-9

This year I’m including a number of subscription programs. What fun for kids to get something exciting in the mail throughout the year engaging them in clever pursuits and feeding them ideas to explore further. Here are two choices for this age group. More to come in other lists.

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Kiwi Crates
Kiwi Crates are designed for ages 5-8, chock full of art, science, and engineering projects. The Kiwi Company has other options for other age groups so check their site to learn more.

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Steve Spangler’s Science Club
Steve Spangler’s Science Club is fizzing with cool science experiments and design challenges, and is recommended for ages 5-12. Check his site to get a full introduction to what’s included in the monthly club shipments.

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LEGO Classic Bricks and Gears
As always, Legos are an obvious choice. If you’ve already got a collection going, you might consider buying a speciality set like this one spilling over with colorful gears and axles to ramp up kids’ creations.

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Brikkon is a European toy and sadly less accessible here in the U.S. but I found a place where this set is available. Wooden bird foundations await a child’s finishing flourish. Or perhaps they’ll turn them into dragons or dinosaurs?

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Klutz LEGO Chain Reactions
Klutz makes several clever guides to accompany your Legos.  Create 10 razzamatazz moving machines with this one. We’ve had these books ourselves and I can attest — their ideas rock!

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Fat Brain Toys OffBits
Want to try a bit more free-range construction? Offbits contain nuts, bolts, springs, and wheels, plus directions for 3 vehicles. Then, let kids try their hands at putting together their own designs, plus get their juices flowing for creating more cool things from found objects. Other Offbits kits are also available.

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Homemade for Hamsters
Get busy making some delightful toys for your hamster to play with — seesaws, treehouses, and other exploratory structures. Enjoy making them as well as watching those fuzzy fellows explore! There are 20 projects in this book,  for running, climbing, digging, chewing, and resting toys.

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101 Dog Tricks: Kids Edition
How about enlisting your child in teaching the dog some new tricks? This awesome guide will turn her into a top notch trainer. Features tricks like ride in a wagon, dog bowling, guess which hand, turn on a tap light, roll a soccer ball, close the door, touch my hand, and jump through a hoop. The book also includes arts and crafts projects to make with your dog. My middle daughter would have loved this!

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Nature Walk Journal
Exploring, observing, wondering are the foundational pieces of all science.  That’s why getting kids out into nature for unstructured wanderings and adventurings is perhaps the best STEM activity possible.  This beautiful nature journal has many features that make it a top choice for recording observations and sketches. If you scroll down into the Amazon reviewers comments at the link, you can see images of some pages.

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Crime Catchers Spy Kit
A spy kit sounds like a blast, while simultaneously boosting observational and logic skills. Solve a couple of mysteries using your powers of deduction, matching fingerprints, testing powders and liquids, decoding secret messages. Jolly good.

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National Geographic Fossil Mine
Paleontologists are detectives, too! Use the tools of the trade — chisel, brush and magnifying glass — to excavate 15 real fossils with this kit. Then turn those kids loose in the back yard!

Ages 9-12

Wonderful Objects Subscription
I’ve found some subscription boxes for this age group as well, starting with this very-hard-to-describe, quarterly subscription called Wonderful Objects.  It’s like receiving a fantasy world in the mail, an invitation via curious objects and story-starters to enter into an interactive storytelling experience!  Read their site to get a better sense of this enticing, fantastical option.  There are adult-level boxes as well as those for kids so be sure you’re looking at the correct information.

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Finders Seekers Subscription
Next up, a subscription called Finders Seekers. Explore the globe, decipher clues, and solve puzzles with a monthly mystery adventure! There’s a new city/culture every month. My understanding is that no murders are involved and the adventures are accessible to ages 10 and up.

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Groovy Lab in a Box
And thirdly, in conjunction with Popular Mechanics magazine, here’s a snazzy science/ engineering subscription box called Groovy Lab in a Box.. Themed boxes each month pose engineering design challenges, with everything you need to complete them.

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Remote-Control Space Explorers
Kids can build their own remote-controlled model of a Mars Rover plus nine other space vehicles. Comes with a full color 80 page manual. If space exploration is not your child’s particular fancy, Thames and Kosmos makes other themed sets as well.

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Magical Microbes MudWatt STEM Kit
Since my son is a microbiologist, I’ve become a tiny bit more familiar with the jaw-dropping world of microbes. This bio-energy kit sounds fascinating. Kids aim to maximize the power they produce by experimenting with different soils, different foods from the fridge, and different temperatures. Along the way, they learn about renewable energy, sustainability, microbiology, electricity, and more. Give it a look!

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ScienceWiz DNA Experiment Kit
And one more super-cool biology adventure: Solve chromosome puzzles, extract DNA from fruit (!), and investigate more with 8 science projects in this exciting kit!

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This Book Is a Planetarium

Stunning! Defying every expectation of what a book can be, this pop-up extravaganza transforms into six fully functional tools: a real working planetarium projecting the constellations, a musical instrument complete with strings for strumming, a geometric drawing generator, an infinite calendar, a message decoder, and even a speaker that amplifies sound. Wowza!

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If you live in or have access to a place without light pollution — I’m talking to you, Minnesota cabin owners! — here’s a telescope I’ve seen recommended. I do think that if there is an adult available who knows a thing or two about telescopes, it will make all the difference to a child’s experience of astronomy, as stargazing is a complicated and persnickety business as far as I can tell! There’s a lengthy Amazon review of this particular instrument at the link which will answer all your questions and then some about its features, pros, and cons.

Makey Makey – An Invention Kit for Everyone
20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius
I feel like most of you have probably heard of Makey-Makey by now. Invented by some MIT folks, it’s a device that allows you to turn everything from bananas to the stairway in your house into a touchpad. Using only alligator clips and a webpage, you can learn circuits, user interface design, and physical computing. I’m including a book that walks you through some seriously challenging projects for kids ages 10 and up, most likely with an adult helper. If inventing, wiring, engineering, or programming lights up your child’s world, check these out.

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Turing Tumbler
This marble-powered computer — The Turing Tumbler — looks like such an exceptional game I cannot do it justice with a short blurb. Their website is cram-jammed with information about it. Here’s a tiny summary from their site: “Players build mechanical computers, powered by marbles, to solve a series of fun logic puzzles in order to rescue Alia the space engineer from a forgotten planet. Unlike other coding games, Turing Tumble teaches not only coding, but also how computers work. Players use a set of 6 different types of parts to build computers that can generate patterns, add, subtract, multiply, divide, compare numbers, and much, much more.” If this sparks an interest, do yourself a favor and check out their site to learn more.

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Heath Kit AM Radio
Build this working, retro AM radio receiver courtesy of the great folks at Heath Kits. This particular version is a non-solder version which makes it easier for younger builders. I have vivid memories of my brother building a Heath Kit ages ago. These folks have been around for about 100 years and they know how to put together a great product.

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Elenco FM Radio Kit
Motivated kids on the upper end of this age range with a helpful adult to work alongside them can learn some soldering skills while building this working FM radio. Learn about circuit boards at the same time. This looks seriously exciting to try!!

There are gobs more ideas in previous years’ lists which you can find by clicking on the Gifts link at the top of the blog. I do try not to repeat myself much from year to year so what’s there mostly differs from this list.

I’ll be back — on Friday, I hope — with a gift guide plum full of artistic endeavors, so come on back and bring your friends 🙂