Thursday, December 4, 2008

Construction Toys As Family Activities

When you think of family activities within the home, often the first picture that comes to mind is games. And make no mistake, games are powerful ways to keep families together, and to help children learn important life lessons.

But today I want to talk about another activity that families can do together, no matter the size. And these involve the extensive group of toys known as "construction sets". Let's see - how many can I name? Zoob, Legos, K'Nex, Lincoln Logs, Quadrilla, Frigits, Puzzibits, Wedgits, and Keva Planks. That was without taking a breath. There are many others. It takes me back to sitting on the floor with my dad (who has now been revealed as an ultra-cool dad because he was so often down there with us, playing and inventing new games) and seeing how many ways we could stack the Lincoln Logs.

All of these sets and more offer great opportunities for group play and for adult-child interaction. Children's brains can often go places their fingers cannot, or they may miss a key detail. And that's where you can be an important part of the system. Construction sets are also great ways for siblings of different ages to play together.

With so many types of sets to choose on, there is definitely one for your family or interest. There are two that you may not have heard of. The first is called Quadrilla, and it's almost become a classic in its own time. Quadrilla is a wooden marble run "system". I call it a system because it's infinitely expandable. You start with a set that lets you create a marble run. But these are no simple marble runs! For one thing, they combine wood with spirals, a difficult and fascinating combination. The wood is beautiful to look at and to touch, and the sculptures are amazing. It's science meets art and mechanics. Fabulous. This is an heirloom-quality toy.

The second one is something you either remember from earlier times or never have heard of. But few people seem to know that this fun toy is available now. These are the Girder and Panel building sets by Bridge Street Toys. This toy was originally manufactured by Kenner in the 1950s. Using plastic pieces that are miniature versions of the girders that are used to create skyscrapers. Each set has the pieces to create one particular building, but you can combine them and mix and match as you want. Creating a city or a skyscraper together would be a great family activity that everyone can participate in.

Whatever you choose, I hope that you build many happy family memories this year. Our families always grow and change, and yours will never be the same as it is now. So spend time together this year, and cherish each moment and each stage.

"Turn around and you're two. Turn around and you're four. Turn around and you're a young girl, going out of my door." --Harry Belafonte

Monday, November 24, 2008

World Discovery Box - A "Toy" for a Lifetime

The natural world, starting with our own backyards, is filled with wonders that encourage and deserve further discovery. A butterfly, an interesting rock, a shell on the beach - these are the treasures that many children love to collect, to study, to ponder. Now there's a product that encourages children to protect and save their treasures. The World Discovery Box is a furniture-quality box of varnished wood with either 18 or 9 drawers. The full-size version is 29" wide, 10.5" tall, and just over 10" deep. The drawers slide in and out easily, and are well sanded and pleasing to touch.

But here is the best part. The World Discovery Box is not just a box - it comes with treasures from around the world to fill your drawers - insects in resin, rocks, shells, and more - a miniature natural history museum for your home or your classroom.

There are so many different ways that you can "play with" or enjoy this product. Think of collecting at least one treasure from every family trip. Play a memory game. Arrange and rearrange your specimens. This is truly a gift for the whole family. It is lovely enough to have a place anywhere in your home. The beauty of the box is striking. I have it stored in a special place in my office, and everyone who walks in asks where they can get one.

That part I can help with. You can purchase the World Discovery Box at PlayFair Toys in Boulder or at At the time of this writing, this is the only retail location that carries this new product. The prices that we currently offer are likely to change substantially after the new year, so there is also an opportunity now to purchase this striking product at a great price.

The story of the World Discovery Box begins in the depths of the Smithsonian Institution, where a young physical anthropologist brings her baby in to work with her. As he grows, he discovers the wonder of the many drawers. As he grows, his parents encourage his exploration of the world, and one day his father decides to build him a case for his treasures. As friends and family see the case, they want their own. Visitors are always drawn to the Discovery Box, wanting to see what is new, to explore its many drawers. And soon the lightbulb goes off, and a product is born. Now this remarkable new product is available for your family as well.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cute customer spotted

One of our beloved customers was spotted on the information highway, having fun in our book section:

Just wanted to share such a sweet face!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Examples of Science Fair Projects

We've started a fun new section at PlayFair Toys - examples of science fair projects. Our hope is to give you some ideas that might work, and we also welcome your own ideas, what worked, what didn't, why did you like it, why not.

This one's a great science experiment for kindergarden kids, or slightly older. Answer the question, "Will a bean seed grow faster if it is cut through the cotyledon or down the middle (between the cotyledons)?" A cotyledon is a "seed leaf". It's that first leaf that comes out when a seed sprouts. If you look closely at a bean, you'll notice that it has two halves that are identical, and if you tap it lightly it will split down the middle into these halves. These are the two cotyledons.

This experiment or science fair project is fun because it involves a saw! I suggest using at least 6 beans for each treatment, in case some of your beans don't sprout at all. Your treatments will be: (1) split the bean into its two cotyledons, (2) saw the bean across the cotyledons, so that you have two halves, each with a part of one of the two original cotyledons, and (3) just leave the bean as it is.

With a parent or teacher helping (very important!), saw your beans as noted. You need to keep your beans moist in order for them to sprout. The easiest way to do this is to place them between two pieces of moist paper towel inside a closed plastic bag. Write the treatment on the bag! Then check them each day, and note how many days have gone by. Once your seeds have sprouted, take them out of the plastic bag, and place them in a small pot with potting soil, but keep them moist and warm. Each day measure all the seeds (now the sprouts) in each treatment.

What do you think will happen?

And if you've got a fun idea that you don't mind sharing, then send it in. If we like it, we'll post it here and give you credit. Just shoot us an email with your idea, addressed to Professor PlayFair, and with the subject line: Science Fair Experiment Example. Also if you try any of our example science fair experiments or science experiments, we'd love to hear what happened. Please email the Professor and let her know what you discovered!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Goodbye Longmont, Hello Boulder!

The sun shines brightly
On my shiny white backyard
Green will soon be here

What would our world be like without seasons? Even growing up in Florida, where winter was a mere suggestion, I was aware of seasons, of changing patterns in light, temperature, and growth. I've spent my adult life in Colorado and Alaska, where the seasons are dramatic and beautiful. They make me feel so much a part of this earth - a reminder that I am one small piece of a large system that is very connected. Now that Valentine's Day is past, although winter still holds us firmly in her grasp, I know that spring is not that far away.

Now we will start to see robins. Soon we will be able to buy strawberries that have flavor again. And one day, in the next few weeks, I'll be out walking and I'll see, in some spot that gets just a bit more warmth than others, the very first flowers popping out, diminutive species grown from bulbs, here to let us know that the cycle of life is still going on. A college roommate once told me, "Everything always changes. That's how we know we are alive." Although it's a simple statement, it's always struck me as a very profound one. There are times when we mourn change, but it is very much a defining part of our nature.

And so I am writing to let you know that, at the end of business today, February 16, 2008, PlayFair Toys will close the doors of our Twin Peaks Mall location in Longmont, Colorado, and not open them again. And yes, there is some sadness about this. We have staff there who have been with us for years who will be moving on. There are customers who have found in our store a refuge, a place to come with their children, a place filled with wonder and fun. We are glad that we were able to be there for you, in your community, and we enjoyed every one of you.

Yet this is not all sorrow, no, not at all! In fact, this is actually quite good news. Because it means that we can fully focus our attention on our strongest location, our Boulder toy store, and make it even better than ever. Because what we are, what we have always been about, is a destination business. Our Boulder store survived being the only remaining retail business on the Crossroads mall property as it was torn down and redeveloped into 29th Street. That was not a fun time for us, but it was always heartening to see how our customers found us even when construction made that difficult. In 2007, I began studying the concept of destination business, the idea that there are certain businesses where the phrase "location, location, location" is not the success driver at all, but rather the businesses themselves are so exciting, so unique, that people will seek them out. PlayFair Toys withstood that test, and it made me realize that, instead of trying to expand into multiple locations, I needed to really work on strengthening that uniqueness at our "Flagship" store.

2008 is PlayFair Toys' 26th year in business in Boulder. The Longmont location was an experiment of sorts. If you've been to Twin Peaks lately, you'll understand that this decision is a necessity for a small, locally-owned business. But the hard times at the mall represent a great opportunity for us and for you, our faithful customers. We have some amazing new plans for 2008 that we're not quite ready to announce, but that will make the store even more intriguing than ever.

Meanwhile - goodbye Twin Peaks, hello Boulder! We are more than worth the drive. And to further entice you to visit, I make this very special offer. Come into our Boulder store, and tell us that you read this blog and want to take advantage of our "Hello Boulder T-shirt deal!". This lets you purchase our unique, cannot-buy-them-anywhere-but-PlayFair, 100% heavyweight cotton t-shirts with the professor's wild and silly grin on the front, for only $8! Yes, only $8 for a cotton shirt, designed and printed right here in Boulder County. These normally sell for $16.95, still a great deal, but we are giving you this special opportunity only through March 15, 2008, as a way of thanking you for reading this and for being a part of our lives. Remember, just say that you want the "Hello Boulder T-shirt deal!". We currently have shirts available in natural fibers with red ink, deep purple with white ink (not coincidentally just perfect for Boulder High School students and families), and deep red with white ink (also not coincidentally just perfect for Fairview High School students and families).

With appreciation,

Marilyn Walker, Owner
PlayFair Toys
Boulder, Colorado

Friday, February 15, 2008

New toys for the winter blahs and the coming spring at PlayFair Toys in Boulder, Colorado

"Eeyore was saying to himself, 'This writing business. Pencils and what-not. Over-rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it.'"
--A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Unlike poor Eeyore, for some of us writing goes beyond a chore and into the realm of a "must". We write not because we can, we write because we must. That, dear reader, is me. So why all the months of quiet fingers? Although for most of you I am sure that Christmas is a distant memory, for those of us in the toy business it just ended yesterday. I am still catching up on my sleep! I was spurred back to action by listening to an interview about blogging, and about how only certain people truly have the constitution to do this, because it takes a real passion for the subject. And I realized then that I do indeed have a passion for this, and it's time to let you know, once again, what is happening in the world of PlayFair Toys.

Our PlayFair elves are plenty busy these days restocking the warehouse. With Valentine's Day behind us, we look forward to the coming spring, and getting ourselves and our children active again. Just to get started, here are some of the many things that have come in recently:

I'll start with the best - Professor PlayFair T-shirts! You've asked for them in different colors, and we are happy to have them now in deep purple and deep red, ranging in size from a child's 2-4 to adult XL. Get them while they're available! Tell us what colors you'd most like to see.

Art supplies from Alex, just about anything you want, from paper to scissors, to kits. Also the very popular magnetic tabletop easels are back. These are great for travel, so you might think about taking one on your spring break trip. Also the Alex Car Valet is back in, perfect for that long trip or just keeping them occupied while you toodle around town.

Arts and Crafts kits of all kinds - these are some favorites for birthday party giving. Whether it's painting or sculpture or sewing or woodcraft - we've got a kit for every kid on your list.

Have you tried Brain Noodles yet? Think super-jumbo pipe cleaners in wild colors, and get crazy with sculpture!

Lots and lots of books... See What We're Reading for some great suggestions, but we really recommend that you come into the store to browse our selection.

Finally back in are Marble Runs by Quercetti and Galt, also Zoob. We have new themed wooden blocks set from Haba, imported from Germany.

Our doll selection is back to normal with loads of new shipments from Corolle, Calico Critters (we carry the entire line), plus many Ryan's Room doll house furniture sets and doll families (finally!). We are very happy to announce that Small World, the maker of Ryan's Room, is back in the saddle after a rocky 2007. We missed Ryan's Room and are thrilled to be stocking it again. Calico Critters have new introductions for spring. Stephanie Sunny-Bunny's Amazing Train Ride has been very popular, and it would make a great Easter gift for under $20.

Our fantasy and occupational costumes are restocked, including the ever popular firefighter costume - the kids love it that it comes with a "real" fire hose! Also stand-out tutus for that little ballerina, and musical skirts, including the Chicken Dance Skirt! What a hoot!

We are well stocked on wooden furniture from KidKraft, and we also just got in the popular Blue Creative Art Center table from Alex, as well the My Cafe Table, which has a matching tin tea set. It's perfect for a corner of the nursery, kitchen, or family room.

Classic games are in - pickup sticks, jacks, marbles, chinese checkers, and more, plus we have new games in every day. Egg and Spoon Race has been a spring favorite the last few years - you can now play this popular outdoor party game with no mess thanks to plastic eggs!

Our infant and toddler area is now full with old favorites and new introductions from Lamaze, Melissa & Doug, Earlyears, Manhattan, Gund, Haba, and others. We have infant and toddler toys made in the US, Germany, Italy, and Thailand. For those who love music, the Neurosmith toys are now well stocked, in a wide array of prices.

Cook up fun with pretend kitchens and food. My favorites are the Cookin Up Fun Kitchen, a nice-size play kitchen for under $100, hard to find, and the new Retro Bakeware set from Schylling. It will take you back to your own childhood and a simpler time. We have some very fun new surprises coming into this part of the store this spring - keep your eyes peeled for retro kitchen miniatures that are a playtime delight.

Trucks! Lots and lots of trucks from Bruder (made in Germany, indestructible and loaded with detail), WOW (from England, toddler appeal and plenty to do), Mighty World play sets, and the popular Grizzly Ranger Rescue set is now back in stock for a very limited time. We have learned that the manufacturer will not be continuing this wonderful set that is just "Oh so Boulder!"

Playmobil has some great new themes out this spring including fairies, dinosaurs, and a pony ranch. We have the first pieces of these in now and will be getting more over the spring. We are now extremely well stocked in Playmobil and have the popular airport pieces back in. Also we now carry Playmobil 1-2-3 for toddlers, an excellent recommendation for those of you looking for toddler toys that are not made in China.

Easter basket stuffers and plush - wind up chicks, bright music boxes, spring-themed thumb toys and more. Be sure to ask about the musical duck puppet from Schylling - it's a riot!

After a long dry spell we have the Tune In Violin back, but it is literally flying out the door. Although this will be reordered, if you have a virtuouso who's been waiting (it was out of stock for over 6 months, very sad), now's the time.

Also we have a great new keyboard for under $20, perfect for starting with a serious instrument and very little investment.

We have restocked puppets and have plenty of bunny rabbits for spring.

Unicycles are back! We had no unicycles in 2007, a sad state of affairs. We now have both a 16" and 18" wheel unicycle in stock, bright red as before, and great fun. These are easier to learn to ride than you might think (well, for children at least!). My son learned at age 8, on this same model we carrry, and now at age 15 he has just purchased his first adult unicycle.

Also we have plenty of tricycles, wagons, scooters, and so on for spring.

Science! Our science shelves are starting to get refilled. A brand new product that I'm very excited about is the mega-screen microscope, which shows the magnified item on a large screen. With spring arriving children should find lots of interesting small things to investigate.

Tired children will be contented children, so keep them busy with plenty of physical activity. We have balance boards for young ones as well as full wooden boards that can take up to adult weight. Jump ropes, paddle ball, t-ball, zip lines, bop bags, golf...

Our party favor/gag gift/just for fun area always has something new. Recent shipments include Jacob's ladder, wind-up home appliances (who says you can't afford a new toaster?!), racing pens - come in and have fun playing with all of them.

Sand, water, bath - new toys for indoors and out. The new AquaTrax Deluxe Water Play System from International Playthings replaces product we have had before from Galt and Brio - open ended water play systems that let children explore building locks, dams, and more. This is one of my favorites of this year's new products.

In the train section there are lots of new Thomas the Tank Engine characters, as well as plenty of sets, including starter-priced sets.

That's only a sampling of all the shipments that have arrived in the last few weeks.

Other great spring ideas are insect study, we have loads of great stuff including nets, wooden hutches for study, even ways to listen to the noises these fascinating small creatures make.

That's enough for now. Come visit us at 1690 28th Street in Boulder, at the corner of Canyon and 28th. Not in Boulder? Of course we are always here for you at

--Professor PlayFair