The 2009 Jolly Holiday Guide: Learning Toys

Little kids are toy junkies. Make the presents under the tree more than just a fad-driven fix with hot learning toys that set the tone for a smart 2010.

Keeping the peace and a sense of calm can be hard with all the whirlwind hustle and bustle of the holidays, which is why VTech created a line of toys designed to let little ones 18-36 months burn off steam while they learn. Their Jungle Gym series features a Ride & Learn Giraffe Bike, Bouncing Colors Turtle (both are my kidlets’ current playroom obsessions), Twist & Learn Gorilla Pals (think kid-sized barbells), and Monkey Moves Smart Seat (kind of like a rower wannabe) that channel outdoor fun and bring it in, all while teaching kids through counting, letters, shapes and music play. And, while they entertain themselves with light-up LED displays and hone their newfound coordination and gross motor skills, you can take a minute to sit back and simply enjoy their merriment, surf your iPhone, and potentially polish off an entire hot chocolate while it’s still hot, which is not only an impressive feat when

you’re a parent, but really what the spirit of the season is all about.

Want more ways to keep your kids learning during winter break? The VTech Voices (Amanda Acuna, Jason Avant and Dawn Meehan) are offering up ideas and advice all week long. Click a name to be redirected. Win a Jungle Gym Giraffe Bike or choose from three other prizes during the Give A Little + Get A Little TwitPic Giveaway, hosted by VTech and Cosmotot now through Dec. 13 at midnight CST. To enter, share a photo link of your family’s holiday happenings on Twitter using #vtechtoys #holiday. Entries must use both hashtags to be considered. One random winner will be announced on Dec. 14 and will not only get one prize of their choice, but also have opportunity to give a duplicate gift to charity.

Cosmotot does not accept pay for play. However, I do have a working rel

ationship with VTech and am their official social media brand representative. Though this is not a paid placement, I do receive compensation for my VTech role.

Kids are tough customers. They expect, no demand, endless adoration, not to mention attention, cuddles, feedings, changings, amusement and all other general forms of room service 24/7, and not only does Infantino get that, but they came up with a flagship line of developmental

toys like Jingle Gems and Dinosaur Noodle Teethers to engage baby’s cognitive and motor skills and generally keep her happy wherever she might be holding an audience during the holidays.

Future rock stars, architects and farmers can find endless imaginative play opportunties from Fisher-Price. Their Little Superstar Jammin’ Band Musical Microphone lightly amplifies baby’s voice and reward

s vocalization with encouraging phrases. Three light-up piano keys, and an attached guitar and drum on the microphone stand have two modes of play including ten songs, riffs, phrases and sound effects. A detachable maraca and tambourine are included, and volume control makes it parent friendly. Better yet, the sit-to-stand option grows with baby.

The Laugh & Learn Learning Farm offers

friendly-faced animal friends and a working crawl-through gate that triggers sing-along songs, dancing lights, music, sounds and phrases. There are veggie shapes to sort, chicken eggs to count, a muddy piggy to play with (my daughter’s favorite part), plus lots of put-and-take, flipping, spinning, pressing, sliding and turning discoveries to make. Two-sided construction stretches the fun, and assembly doesn’t take more than 20 minutes, even with little helpers lending a hand or using the pieces to swashbuckle. Free shipping through Dec. 11.

Kid- and parent-approved Learning Curve has everything your train fanatic could possibly want, need or dream of for the holidays in their award-winning collection of Thomas & Friends wooden and take-along trains, playsets and accessories. New this year is a Talking Railway playset, featuring characters straight from the Hero of the Rails movie (think Thomas, Spencer, Cranky and Hiro). Engine recognition technology makes Sir Topham Hatt fancy – he recognizes each engine by name, while wooden track encourages kids to exercise fine motor skills and spatial planning. Enter Cosmotot’s Jolly Holiday Learning Toys Giveaway now through Dec. 12 at midnight CST for a chance to win your own Thomas & Friends Talking Railway “Farewell at the Docks” set. Leave a comment below telling me your child’s favorite Thomas train. One random winner will be announced Dec. 13.

Future Food Network stars can get their start with the Fresh Market Kitchen from Step 2, which quite frankly, is fancier than the real thing at my house. It’s literally s

tocked with fun, and gives budding Mario Batali’s and Sandra Lee’s 360 degrees of role play since the 3-in-1 style not only offers up a full-size kitchen, but a market and dining area, too. Modern colors and decals give the whole thing a realistic feel, and though assembly’s a bit of a bear, the end result, which includes a baker’s display case, stainless steel-look appliances, sink, electronics, and 47-piece accessory set make it worth the extra time spent re-drilling holes that are supposed to be pre-drilled.

Get the Little Helper’s Grocery Cart to let the kids shop til they drop. It’s sturdy, durable and designed with a low, wide shape, making it easy to manuever, even for early walkers. That being said, if your kids are like mine, make sure the early walker doesn’t get a ride around the house in it. Sign up for 12 Deals in 12 Days to get one-day-only coupon codes via email through Dec. 13.

Have plans to pack up the kids and travel to far-flung places (or the grandparents’ house one town over) for the holidays? Bring along the creative comforts of home with the gift that keeps on giving (parents love the gift of sanity) from TravelKiddy. Their travel activity kits, refill packs and add-on options not only cram creative, brain-building fun (think Melissa & Doug art pads, coloring books, stacking toys, craft pieces, puzzles, baby board books, stickers and more) into an age-appropriate pack (versions for toddlers, big kids, twees and adults are available), but also include basics like travel tissues and band-aids to cover little mishaps while going nomad. Bonus: TravelKiddy is for more than just travel. Give grandma a break in the entertainment department and leave one at her house for weekend sleepovers. Freebie: Enter HAPPY TRAVELS in the special instructions box at checkout and get six free sticker sheets with your order.

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