2018 Oregon Family Magazine Holiday Gift Guide
● By Sandy Kauten
My family loves board games of all sorts from easy to play with a quick start and simple concepts to more complicated and challenging. Between my family and a few friends, we tried eight different games this year; I’ve ranked them roughly by age and level of challenge.
Veggie Farm Sorting Set: The perfect game for a busy preschooler! The Veggie Farm Sorting set teaches kids ages 3+ how to count, match, and sort by color or type. The pieces are brightly colored, sturdy and fun to hold. A friend’s three-year-old instantly took to putting the pieces in the bushel baskets and then sorting them onto the foam mat. This game is engaging and helps develop pre-school abilities such as color recognition, matching sorting and counting skills. $25 at most major retailers.
uKloo: As the mom of a first grader, I know first hand the challenge of getting young kids to commit to reading when it’s slow and can feel tedious to sound out every. single. word. Of course they get the hang of it with practice, and this early literacy game can help. My son giggled running through the house looking for clues his big brother had mapped out (bonus points to uKloo for pulling big brother into the fun).
Even the earliest of readers can read the clues (thanks, in part, to a visual map that helps when they get stuck) and kids will focus on sight words and basic sentence construction while hunting for a surprise.. $20 at uKloo.com, Amazon, Wal-Mart, major retailers.
Game of Space: Magnets are endlessly fascinating. This dead-simple, but addicting game uses (very strong) magnet rocks and a four-piece board/mat. It’s meant for two players and each plots their space rocks’ positions on the board with the objective of not attracting another magnetic rock. If your piece attracts another, add it to your pile. Whoever loses all their rocks first wins the game.
The rounds move quickly and my kids begged for “one more time!” as they figured out just how close you could place two magnets together before one would make the other move. It takes some spatial reasoning skills to play and the board can be configured to amp up the difficulty level. $24.99 from TheGrommet.com
Stick Six: In the same vein as the classic game, Connect 4, Stick Six uses colorful suction cups on a clear honeycomb board. You start with a giant clear playing board, then start strategizing — you’ll see so many options to get six in a row (or a circle). The game is simple enough for young kids to play along, too. Pro Tip: give the brand new pieces a quick clean so the little suction cups stay on the board. $30 from FatBrainToys.com
Shadows in the Forest: A 2018 gift guide favorite! Shadows in the Forest is entirely unique — it’s meant to be played in the dark as a board game variation of flashlight tag.
Adorable forest creatures called ‘Shadowlings’ hide from any sign of light, while ‘The Seeker’ moves around the forest trying to catch them. The Seeker (one player) plays as the glowing lantern and tries to freeze the Shadowlings (up to six players) by casting light across the trees. As the light moves, the shadows change. The Shadowlings work together to move in the darkness and continue hiding behind the trees to avoid being captured. $20 - $25 at most major retailers or ThinkFun.com
Rest Stop: Created by Eugene-area teacher, Tim Olguin, Rest Stop is a card-based game that mixes strategy and luck. With just a hint of Oregon Trail, the purpose of the game is to complete their road trip across the country. You start with just your car, but you’ll need food, gas and rest in order to make it. You can “speed” to make up ground if you get stuck, but you might get stopped! And every game is different!
My tween loved this game (as did I), but it was also simple enough that we could coach my first-grader along, too. $25.99 at GameCrafters.com
Acuity: This game is harder than it looks! A pattern-matching game takes 70 different bright, beautiful patterns. You start with 36 tiles are set out in a grid, then try to match them up with the remaining 34 tiles. However – Here's the kicker: None of the tiles actually match.
In order to find matching patterns, players have to look at either the two adjacent sides of two tiles, or the four adjacent corners of four tiles. Whoever can match the most tiles wins the game! With several ways to play (collaborative, solitaire or racing), you won’t tire quickly of this game. $20 at most major retailers or FatBrainToys.com
Iquazu: This is a beautiful strategy game from German maker, HABA. It take a bit to set up and figure out the play, but we found once we got started, the narrative and game play was very compelling. The premise is that an indigenous-type tribe, the Inox, are working to save their gemstones from the Evil Rhujas by hiding them behind the rock wall of the Iquazu waterfall. Iquazu is great for ages 10 and up and easy to catch on for casual gamers. $50 at Amazon or Elephant’s Trunk at 5th Street Market or Valley River Center.
More than Games
This year’s guide is about more than board games, believe it or not. But even if your family isn’t competing (or collaborating) around the table, these gift ideas can be family or parent-child together fun.
Giant Recycling Truck: A 2-foot long recycling truck may not bring everyone together, but the imaginary play that happens with giant, rideable waste management vehicles is pretty impressive, none the less. $24 at Amazon & other major retailers.
The Field: “The Field” was created by the owner of Class Grass Ireland an artificial turf company. His son’s request turned into a beautifully simple idea — a “field” designed as a blank canvas for young imaginations. Is it a farm? A yard? a school? or maybe a park? I think our half-acre field has been all four in the time we’ve been testing it. The Field can be used indoors, or outside, for hours of turning imaginations into reality. Each field comes with animal figures, a tractor and trailer and even arrives with a Certificate of Title. $35 (half-acre) or $50 (original) on Amazon.
BrainBolt: BrainBolt is a memory-testing twist on handheld electronic games like Simon. Tiles light up in random order on the handheld, wireless game console. Perfect for solo play or there’s a head-to-head mode to share the game with your child. $22 on Amazon.
Build Your Own Luci (BYOL): Luci, from MPOWERED, is a popular line of inflatable solar lights for camping, backyard fun and everyday living. The company’s new Build-Your-Own Luci (BYOL) kit teaches kids hands-on scientific concepts while building a customizable solar light. My kids’ eyes lit up along with their new solar light. It’s a simple kit with three modular disks, a transparent cover, two USB cables, a whole bunch of LEDs and an activities booklet. To get started, just connect the solar panel and battery disks via the USB cables and the customizable LED light board will light up! $35 from mpowerd.com.
Roll-Up Piano & Hoffman Academy: Learning piano basics doesn’t have to be time consuming or require a large piece of furniture. The Rock & Roll It flexible roll-up piano can be played anywhere. It features multiple keyboard tones and demo songs and it runs on batteries or USB so you can play when you travel, camp, or move around the house. Practice on the built-in speaker or hook it up to the sound system for a performance, then roll it up when you’re done. $50 from TheGrommet.com.
Combine it with a subscription to Hoffman Academy lessons online. Started by Joseph Hoffman, the brick and mortar Hoffman Academy is located in Portland! The online lessons focus on an “ear before eye” philosophy and incorporate child development and learning theory. My 6-year-old tried a few lessons on both the Roll-Up Piano and our electronic keyboard and he picked up on the basic ideas and was playing “Hot Cross Buns” for days. All video lessons are free, premium accounts with more resources available for $18/month. Visit hoffmanacademy.com for more info.
ArmoGear Laser Tag: My kids love birthday parties at Putter’s in West Eugene so they can play laser tag with friends. The ArmoGear Laser Tag is an at-home laser tag with arcade-style features to bring the fun to your backyard. The set has an 150-200 foot shooting range, invisibility mode, night vision and wireless target vests. It works inside or outside — my kids and their cousins spent hours chasing each other around the yard. The 2-pack is $75 and 4-pack is $150 on Amazon or ArmoGear.com.
JBL Clip Bluetooth Speaker: If you have an older kid or a teen, music is likely a big part of their life. Attach the JBL Clip 3 to a backpack or bicycle and enjoy hands-free entertainment for up to 10 hours – all with exceptional sound. It’s also waterproof and made of rugged materials — perfect for teens. $60 on JBL.com or Amazon.
I hope this gift guide has given you some new ideas for games, toys and gadgets for the kids in your life.
Active Minds & Bodies: Fully Desk and Tic Toc Tyke Chair
Furniture is probably not at the top of your kid’s wish list, but when we got it set up, my kids were excited about the Jarvis Standing Desk from Portland-based Fully. I mean, who jockeys for their turn to use a desk? My kids do now. The desk moves up and down and has a whiteboard top for jotting ideas and doodles while they work. When the desk is lowered to normal height, the Tic Toc Tyke chair has just a little wobble for active sitting.
Kids have a very real physical need to move and there is growing evidence that kids excel when their active minds and active brains are engaged.
I can tell this desk is going to be a favorite spot for homework, project work and doodles.
Jarvis Stand-Up Desk: starting at $420
Tic Toc Tyke: $179
2018 Mom's Gift Guide
Moms appreciate thoughtful gifts, too, right? Sometimes we just need to nudge our families a little. I had a chance to review a range of gift ideas this year — feel free to clip our 2018 Mom “Stocking Stuffer” gift guide and post on the fridge.
Look Good, Feel Good
You can’t go wrong with jewelry to look good and I found two beautiful ideas for this year’s gift list. The Mama XO necklace from Isabelle Grace is a sweet reminder how much the name “mama” means. Send (or receive) love and a hug with this mixed metal piece on a dainty chain. ($59 from IsabelleGraceJewelry.com)
If statement jewelry is more your style, the very sparkly Plaid Nouveau collection from Chloe + Isabel may be the perfect fit. Colorblocked emerald and teal with pave crystal earrings and bracelet will absolutely turn heads. ($88 from ChloeandIsabel.com)
If “feel good” is your favorite treat, check out Warm Human’s solid aromatherapy scents. Visit WarmHuman.com to find your scent with “shop the feeling.” I tried relaxed, calm, peaceful (can you see where I’m headed…) and Blue Chamomile came up each time. Hint, hint! The scent is soft and you can wear on your skin or in your hair. ($14.95 from WarmHuman.com)
Newton & Co’s Spanish Hand Salve is bliss on dry winter skin. My hands just can’t get enough. It’s made with hempseed oil and deeply moisturizes without leaving the skin feeling greasy. The scent is “Spanish Sage” and mixes white sage, lavender and Myrrh. ($9 at NewtonPlus.co)
A strong eyebrow can make a real difference and Medford, Ore.-based Survivor Eyes has a creative eyebrow kit that has — hands down — the best brow pencil and brushes I’ve ever used. SurvivorEyes brow kits are designed & created by a breast cancer survivor to create natural-looking, beautiful brows that are easy to apply and last all day.
The founder quickly realized that lots of people need great brow kits and this one delivers and does so with a beautiful purpose — each purchase supports charities that help those struggling with hair loss. The kit comes with templates to match the size and shape of your natural brows, a pencil and a blending brush. ($19.95 at SurvivorEyes.com)
There’s really nothing like a great facial moisturizer, am I right? With dry (ahem, “maturing”) skin. I’m always on the lookout for new products to try. Brevena sent me a day and night moisturizer to try and both make your skin feel soft, smooth and yes, even a little lighter, tighter and brighter. It has something called a “Macro B Complex,” which the company says is the special sauce. ($159 for both day and night from Brevena.com or Amazon)
So, let’s be real. Chocolate and caramel creams are really the way to your heart. At least that’s true for me. OCHO (Organic+CHOcolate) sent me some minis and some candy bars to try in lots of flavors and fillings. The caramel and peanut butter are my personal fave, but any of them will make a fun, inexpensive stocking stuffer that’s miles above regular grocery store chocolate. ($1.99+ at Albertson’s, Safeway, Whole Foods or OCHOCandy.com)
Goetze's Candy Company is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year — not familiar with that name? You may know it better by one of its candy brands - Cow Tails. A box full of caramel creams could not have made me happier. Caramels are my favorite. Whether eating right out of the wrapper or incorporating it into one of the delicious recipes the company has on its website, these little gems will make your day, too. You can find them at Fred Meyer, Walgreens and Wal-Mart.
Meal subscription boxes are everywhere these days! Spice Madam is a new take on this idea — rather than all the ingredients, you get the spices unique to a particular county or region of the world with recipes, trivia about the country and tips for how to prepare an authentic meal. Spice Madam sent me a box from Greece and it smelled so good. I love Greek food and immediately tried the tzatziki recipe. Yum! The recipes ranged from simple (like the tzatziki) to more complex (baklava). The meal would be easy to customize, adjust for dietary restrictions or modify for picky eaters. (The subscription is $20/month at SpiceMadam.com and Oregon Family readers can get $10 off with code OREGONFAMILY10)
My favorite thing to do when I’m cooking (like with the Spice Madam recipes) is listen to music. A little hip-hop on the bluetooth speaker, a little olive oil in the pan and off we go. I love the JBL GO 2. It’s small and compact, comes in 12 different colors and has five hours of playtime. ($39.95 from JBL.com or Amazon)
Stocking stuffers for moms don’t have to be complicated. Feel good, look good and treat yo’self.