Thursday, October 9, 2008

Crayola Mix 'Ems and Paint Brush Pens

This isn't going to win me any love from the nice PR people who sent me two new Crayola products for free, but I'm going to say it anyway:

Have you ever noticed new, innovative Crayola products in the stores? You'll see them, and think, hmm, that might be neat. And then the next thing you know, they're on Clearance. Because nobody bought them.

Because what we really want from Crayola is a wonderful, big-ass box of crayons with a built-in sharpener. And a pack of washable markers, and some sidewalk chalk, please.

Because of my penchant for clearance shopping, I've actually tried a few other Crayola innovations over the years -- sidewalk chalk that goes on a wheeled stick and sidewalk paint are a couple of things that come to mind. I even bought one innovation before it went on clearance -- these markers with no caps that are supposed to be great for babies. They weren't great for my baby -- she had a hard time making any marks with them. But her older sister thought they were cool for awhile.

And that's just how it goes with most of the innovative stuff we've gotten, including the products I'm reviewing today -- the novelty keeps the kids very engaged the first time we play with them. But after the first couple times, the novelty wears off and -- because the new products so far never work quite as well or at least no better than the classic products -- they always return to the ever-versatile, beloved Crayola standards.

So -- about the Mix Ems. These are markers with a different color on each end, and if you stick two marker tips together and smoosh them together, it's supposed to blend the color. My older daughter LOVES creating new paint colors, so I thought she would love this.

Well, the effect is not as subtle as mixing paint. Usually, it's more like the stronger color just overtakes the lighter color. You are supposed to be able to do some fancy tricks by using the tip or side of the marker, but since she's only 4, Nutmeg didn't quite get that.

After the first couple times she used these, they made their way to the bottom of the marker bin and I haven't seen or heard from them since. If the kids use them again, I'd predict they just use them like regular markers and forget about their mixing powers.

Then, on to the Paint Brush Pens. Here's an idea with clear mom appeal -- I hate setting out brushes and paints, washing brushes, and dealing with the mess that results from the whole project. I also dislike hanging up huge sheets of easel paper to dry. I know. I'm awful and because of me, my children's inner Michelangelo is forever stunted.

The Paint Brush Pens were kind of a compromise. They are definitely not as fun as instrucitonal for kids as painting with real brushes. Much less tactile experience, less variety of marks you can make. No paint mixing, which as I said is Nutmeg's favorite part.

But, it does make a more interesting variety of marks than plain old markers, and it is definitely less mess. The baby enjoyed drawing with these for quite awhile, and if she finds one, I'm sure she'll play with it some more.

But next time I buy a Crayola gift for a kid, I'm still sticking to the standards. You know what innovation I WOULD like from Crayola, though? Caps that a) are not choking hazards and b) somehow stay attached to the dang markers! I feel like all I ever do is replace marker caps, throw away dried out markers and orphan caps, and watch my toddler to make sure she doesn't have a cap in her mouth. I hate those little fairy fezes!

Thursday, October 2, 2008 Challenge

Ever hear of It's like, you're a teacher in our crappy American school system, so of course you don't have the money you should to fund classroom projects. So, you go online and ask the general public, who thought they were already paying for this stuff through taxes, to pay for it through their credit cards.

Hmm. Let me try again to sell you on donating to

Here's a Chicago teacher who wants books about fish for her 3rd graders who "love research."

Here's a kindergarten teacher who needs a magnetic "fishing for ABCs" set. I think we had that in OUR kindergarten.

The Chicago Moms Blog, to which I belong, is competing in a blogger's challenge to raise money for classrooms on I really do think it's a worthy cause, I just don't think we should NEED it in a wealthy society like ours. Also, I love the way the Web site lets you choose the project and post a little message to the recipient.

So if you're inclined, visit the DonorsChoose button at the bottom of the page. Or here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Play-Doh Magic Swirl Ice Cream Shoppe

available fall 2008

This toy had Nutmeg dancing around with joy as we opened the box. I was rather joyful myself, since the Cubs were about to start the playoffs and I was counting on the Ice Cream Shoppe to keep both girls occupied until dinner.

Before I could leave them to it, there was some assembly, but it was nothing. All I had to do was snap two long pieces of plastic into the main frame. One was the sprinkle maker, the other the topping maker.

The girls played happily with the set for 35 minutes, and I even got in on the act, spurred on by happy memories of my Play-Doh beauty parlor set. After that, Pebbles got frustrated and started crying -- probably a combination of the late hour, the toy being beyond her capabilities (it's aimed at kids 3 and up), and, most of all, her sister not sharing.

Speaking of the 3-and-up thing, you'd think that very young kids would get confused when Play-Doh is used to make pretend food. But Pebbles got the idea right away and I don't think she ate any.

Here's what we love:

1) Any new Play-Doh set is a good thing. We love Play-Doh, and that satisfying feeling that comes from pushing it through some kind of crank or mold.

2) Although I wish the kids would spend more time with just Play-Doh or clay, using their imagination instead of molds, this set at least gives them a lot of options. For instance, all the little molds of flowers and fruit built into the set provide for various decorating strategies. Also, a new Play-Doh set helps get Nutmeg excited about playing with her Play-Doh in general, and it had been just sitting around lately.

3) It's not character licensed or especially gender-themed. We have a My Little Pony beauty parlor set, but I'm not too quick to get that one out.

4) It comes with a tub of Play-Doh that is specially multicolored for making sprinkles. Nutmeg loves sprinkles.

5) Our set came with a coupon for $2 off a $10 Play-Doh purchase. I love coupons.

What we didn't love:

1) When you crank out soft serve ice cream, the cone rotates and it's supposed to fall into the cone in a nice twist like it would from a real soft serve machine. In reality, it doesn't coil very easily. Maybe we'll get better at this, but so far we've had to manually retwist it and then the ridges have little finger marks on them.

2) It's kind of hard to get the sprinkles maker to make individual sprinkles. You have to put in Play-Doh, then clamp down the top and crank it. But you have to put in a very small amount of Play-Doh to allow the top to clamp down and start cranking.

3) When you are trying to clamp down the sprinkles maker, if you use any force at all it's easy to to tip over the whole set, which is quite light. So if you have one dish sitting on a platform or a cake on the cake pedestal, and you're trying to do sprinkles, everything will go flying.

4) Some of the parts are difficult to get the dough off of because they don't all come apart once they're snapped together.

Here are our creations. They never look quite like they do in the ads, do they? I wonder how many "professional Play-Doh modelers Hasbro employs to make the perfect creations featured on the boxes?