The Top Five–Children’s Toys

Time for another “Top Five” list…and this time, I actually kept it to exactly five! Today I’m looking at my favorite children’s toys…and with one exception, they’re all toys I played with when I was a child, in addition to all being toys my children have enjoyed/still enjoy playing with!

  • Little People–Fisher Price’s Little People were originally introduced in the 1950s. The barrel-shaped, armless, Little People I had (including those that came with the iconic house and the farm), looked quite a bit different from the chunky, more-detailed ones my children have played with, but the basic concept is still the same, and they’re extremely sturdy! They have been the basis for many hours of imaginary play!
  • Lego–Lego is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the brick this year! Of course the Lego company has gotten bigger over those years, and the sets have become more complicated, especially as they have introduced licensed lines, but the bricks themselves really haven’t changed. As a matter of fact, it’s my understanding that the first Lego bricks, the Lego bricks I played with, and the zillions of Lego bricks in our house today, just waiting for someone with bare feet to step on them, will all work together. That is impressive commitment to standardization and quality control! I’m also not ashamed to admit that I’m still building with Lego bricks, as is Ryan, so this is one toy that is literally enjoyed by every single person in our house!
  • American Girl/Beforever–What we know as American Girl today started as the Pleasant Company in 1986. I had one and only one American Girl doll when I was a child (Kirsten), and I still have her today. Bunny and Ladybug have…well, way more dolls, some they received as gifts, and some they saved their hard-earned money to purchase themselves. In addition to being very high quality (my doll still looks great 25+ years later!), they’re a great tool for learning about history. And not only do they encourage imaginative play, they also encourage reading, because you just have to learn the story of your doll! Like Lego, this is a toy that I’m still playing with, and I even added a second doll to my collection last year when the children gave me Melody for my birthday!
  • Crayola–Crayola crayons have been around since 1903! I don’t know if everyone would consider drawing materials (plus all of the other fabulous arts and crafts stuff Crayola makes) to be toys, but I do. They inspire so many hours of creativity, and what parent doesn’t have a house filled with artwork created with Crayola? And there’s something special about the smell the first time you open a new box of crayons…
  • Build-a-Bear–This is the most recent toy on the market to make my list (they were founded right here in the St. Louis area in 1997, and their first store opened in the St. Louis Galleria), and the one toy here that I didn’t play with in my childhood. The stuffed animals are high quality, and let’s face it, getting to make your own bear, make as wish on its heart, “wash” it in the store, and dress it is a lot of fun! Of course, it can also get expensive really quickly, but that’s true for pretty much all toys. If you’re feeling really crazy, you can even have a child’s party in store, and they even have a new concept called the Build-a-Bear Bakeshop where you can decorate cupcakes and enjoy other treats.

There are so many other toys my children have enjoyed playing with over the years…pretty much anything made by Fisher-Price, Webkinz, Leapfrog, Transformers, and My Little Pony to name a few, but these five are really special, and I hope they’re around for a long time to come!

The Day-After-Thanksgiving Legostravaganza!!!

The day after Thanksgiving is always a fun day in the Markel house, starting with pie for breakfast, and continuing on through the day with TV-watching, leftovers-eating, and turkey soup for dinner. But the highlight of the day is always the building of the new Lego Winter Village set for the year. Everyone gets to join in the fun!

This year, we had a few small sets: a town square and a train ride, plus a nutcracker.

And the big set…the Winter Village Station, to go with the train we assembled last year! I knew as soon as I saw it that I wanted to build the bus, because it reminds me of the Columbia Inn’s taxi in White Christmas! I especially love the presets in the rooftop carrier.

The station itself is also pretty cool…there’s a lot of nice little details, including a coffee shop inside!

The station joined the train under the tree in our living room, and I love the way it adds to our wintry scene of happy travelers!

Lego “Women of NASA”

I was so excited when Lego Ideas announced that they were going to be making the proposed “Women of NASA” set. We’ve always been huge space nerds, and have a whole corner of our schoolroom dedicated to Lego space sets, so I knew this was going to fit in perfectly. Normally, I would let all five children in on the build, but since there were exactly three vignettes, one for each of my three daughters, I decided it was going to be a girls-only build!

Each part of the set is fairly small, and the builds aren’t too complicated (although they are ingenious…I love the use of a trash can on the telescope!), so it didn’t take too long to put together, and Chickadee could build her part with little help.

The completed sets include computer scientist Margaret Hamilton (and an impressive stack of books!), astronomer Nancy Grace Roman with a Hubble telescope, and astronauts Sally Ride and Mae Jemison with an amazingly detailed for its size space shuttle.

I love that Lego Ideas doesn’t just want you to build something…they want you to learn something, too! There was a page in the instruction book for each of the four women in the set, highlighting their lives and careers. It’s so inspiring to read about these real, brilliant, talented women…and even I learned quite a bit!

It’s a great looking set!

And I told you it would fit right in with our Lego space shuttle and Saturn V rocket!

This is a fantastic little set…as always, I’m looking forward to finding out what else Lego Ideas will put into production in the future!

2017-18 School Year–Week Twelve+

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that we had a busy week ahead, and I wasn’t sure how much school we were going to get done. We did have school, but only for a few days, so I’m going to combine that with this week’s wrap-up.

In addition to a couple of days of regular school work last week, we did a few fun things, as well. We celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and three of the children even got to participate in a mass children’s choir at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. It was very exciting to be part of that historic event!

We started on one of my favorite November traditions last week…we’re assembling our yearly “Thankful Tree!” As far as I can remember, the first year we did this was 2009, and that tree had handprints for leaves. We’ve also done some other variations on it over the years, including a Thankful Wreath, and maybe a Thankful Turkey, as well. Since at least 2011, though, we’ve used the current format. Laminating all those leaves was a pain at the time, but they sure have served us well!

We also went to the St. Louis Public Library Central Library to see the “We Are Shakespeare” exhibit. I almost ran out of time on that one, because it closed last weekend. It was a really cool exhibit, and I’m glad we made it!

We also took advantage of the nice weather on one of Moose’s days off last week to take a nature walk around Creve Coeur Lake. We saw snakes and birds, lots of cool leaves and fruits/nuts, and tons of other people out on bikes and boats enjoying the beautiful day.

This week was a little more standard. We got back to our regular religion lessons, after taking a break for the Reformation. Turkey and Bunny wrapped up another unit in their books, but not before they learned about the Tabernacle, and the positions of all the different tribes when the set up camp around it. Ladybug read a story that was not too familiar to her…the tale of Gideon. Chickadee learned about Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

Ladybug is working on long division in math. She does not enjoy it. She is good at it, though, which is important. Turkey and Bunny worked with regular polygons. They found out how to find the measures of the interior and exterior angles of various shapes. Chickadee is still working on counting larger numbers, and she’s getting pretty good at it!

We had a lot of fun in science this week. Turkey and Bunny have been learning about diffusion and osmosis, and they got to do a few cool experiments to see how they work. Their favorite experiment involved an egg. First, they soaked it in vinegar to remove the shell (which they’ve done in the past). Then they soaked it in syrup, to see which way the liquid moved (out of the egg into the syrup). After that, they soaked it in water, again to see which way the liquid moved (from the water into the egg). They took measurements along the way, and were very impressed with the differences they recorded! Ladybug watched every step of their experiment and was fascinated by it, even as she was learning about Old World apes in her science class.

History has also been interesting. Even though they’re using different texts, Turkey and Bunny’s and Ladybug’s lessons have overlapped again. They’ve all been learning about Babylon and Assyria. We’ve talked about rulers such as Tiglath-Pileser III and Shalmaneser V. We’ve also made some connections to Bible history, even though our religion lessons haven’t gotten there yet.

The girls had a fun little activity this week. We’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of the Lego Ideas “Women of NASA” set, and we finally received our copy. I decided since there are exactly three vignettes in the set that the girls should be the ones to build it. Turkey still enjoyed reading about the women depicted in the set (I love that Lego included that information in the instruction book) even though he didn’t get to help build it. It’s a great little set, and looks right at home next to our Saturn V rocket!

Next week, we’ll be starting on our annual Thanksgiving study…I can’t believe how quickly that holiday is approaching!

Chickadee Thursday

Last month (or maybe it was in August), I received this cool little Lego set free with a purchase. It has all kind of little learning activities, including making letters and numbers out of Lego bricks, and it’s just perfect for Chickadee to use while working on her letter of the week!

This week was all about the letter “P” and Chickadee enjoyed making it using just 10 Lego bricks, along with some other letters, numbers, and an adorable little giraffe!

I love finding fun little things to add to her lessons!

Lego London

My Lego London collection has become quite extensive! The pieces that “belong to me” (even though most of them were group efforts when it came to assembly) are on display around our living room. It makes me happy to see so many iconic London landmarks in Lego in our home! Three of them are Lego Architecture sets: (little) Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and the London skyline. We have two large-scale architecture sets, as well: (big) Big Ben and Tower Bridge, which is the first Lego set Ryan and I built for us, and not for the children. I also have London buses in two sizes…a promo set from last year, and the large-scale bus I built this summer (there are also an additional two buses that came with Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace).  For photo purposes, Turkey lent me his Mini Cooper (and the tiny promo set that matches it), and Ryan shared his TARDIS, neither of which are usually in the living room with the others:

As always, I will anxiously await any other London sets that Lego decides to make…except for the modular buildings, they’re my favorite Lego builds!

2017-18 School Year–Week One

The first week of the 2017-18 school year is already behind us! This year, I have two ninth graders, a fifth grader, and a Kindergartener!

We started on Tuesday, so it was a short, four-day week. And the first day of school is always mostly fun…finding out what’s in this year’s schultüte, handing out books and organizing desks, taking lots of pictures, and building a Lego set. The latter took several hours, as it is the largest Lego set (the Lego Ideas Saturn V), that we’ve ever built in school. It was a fun project that everyone got to help with (we intentionally started before Moose’s first day of school so he could participate), and was educational, thanks to the fantastic extra details in the instruction book.

On Wednesday, we had a pretty full day of school, beginning most of our subjects for the year, from high school geometry and biology to fifth grade math, spelling, and vocabulary, all the way down to reading Ramona the Pest out loud and Kindergarten handwriting. But then we took a break from our work on Thursday to go on our first field trip of the school year, to see The Discovery of King Tut at the St. Louis Science Center. It was a fantastic exhibit, full of extremely well done replicas from Tut’s tomb, and was also a great way to kick off our history studies for the year, as everyone is going to be studying ancient history in one way or another.

Today we finished off with another regular school day. The only subject we haven’t started yet is our various literature studies (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to start for Turkey and Bunny, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for Ladybug), which we will add to our schedule next week. I’ll close with something new for this year…I chose a Bible verse to be our theme for the year for the first time ever, and I think our chosen verse of Philippians 4:8 is an especially good reminder with all the chaos in the world right now:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”