This summer we played with PlaSmart’s Watermelon Ball JR, a water toy I thought the kids might play with for a couple minutes and then get bored. But we all found it really fun!
As you can see, it floats! Here the predator stalks its prey:
But it also moves underwater really well. Whether at the beach or (better) in a swimming pool, we had lots of fun passing it to each other and playing keep away by pushing it through the water. Even though it pops up to the surface to float, you can move it around pretty easily underwater.
The ball comes with a mechanism to easily fill it with water from a hose—we filled it to probably about 2/3 full, which ended up working just fine. It hasn’t leaked at all.
Here are a couple of more images from PlaSmart.
The Watermelon Ball is so named because it is:
Designed to look, feel, and behave like a watermelon in water. Real watermelons are nearly neutrally buoyant: first sinking to the bottom then slowly rising to the top, making them ideal for all kinds of water games.
It probably would have been pretty fun to be among the group of people testing out real watermelons to discover that they are “nearly neutrally buoyant” (probably a pool party accident). I didn’t cross-test this toy against a watermelon, so can’t speak to the similarities, but the toy definitely does what it promises.
Only the Hess toy trucks at the babysitting room at our local Y have convinced our two boys to accept a drop-off there. They’re much better built and way cooler to play with than one might otherwise expect from a toy made by a gasoline station.
Hess, it turns out, has been producing its Toy Truck line since 1964. The first make was a tanker trailer, modeled after the ones that brought gas to the stations. For $1.29 (including batteries!) you could put the tanker trailer under the Christmas tree for your little one.
2015’s model is especially awesome:
This year’s Hess Toy is a red Fire Truck with oversized tires, swiveling chrome-detailed fire hose nozzles, LED lights including a high-powered pivoting LED searchlight, a slide-out ramp and 4 realistic sound effects. The accompanying Ladder Rescue features a rotating extension ladder with a movable nozzle and push-activated friction motor. (source)
Here it is (click on any image in this post to enlarge):
You’re really getting two trucks for the price of one. Which is good, because the toy is $30.99. That’s more than most parents I know would want to spend on a truck for their kid, but it also includes free shipping and batteries. Given its high-quality construction, the truck looks like it will last a long time, so I don’t think it’s an unfair–if high–price, especially considering all its features.
Here’s what the trucks look like with lights on:
I got quite a start when I pulled out the ramp at the back of the larger truck–it makes a robust sound that you’d expect from a real-life mechanical ramp. It’s not the kind of annoying sound that will bug you when on repeat, but this might be a toy for kids to take out of their brother’s bedroom and into the living room when they wake up at 6:30 a.m. to play. The ramp makes for an easy entrance/exit for the Ladder Rescue truck to go do its own thing.
The Fire Truck has more sounds than the ramp. There is also an Ignition button (very realistic), a Horn, and a Siren. Each sound plays for about 10 seconds and is–this is worth repeating–not something to play with while baby sister is napping. But that makes the toy all the more fun and awesome. The horn sounds like there’s a real emergency at your house. (Not to mention the siren!) If need be, you don’t have to wait 10 seconds for it to stop; you can just push the button again to silence it. (That’s a thoughtful feature!) So long as your neighbors know it’s just the Hess Toy Truck and don’t go calling 9-1-1 on you, you’ll be fine.
You can turn just the lights on via the switch under the truck. There are two options: you can have the lights solidly on, or turn them on in flasher mode. Regardless of what you do at the bottom of the truck, turning on any sounds causes the lights to flash. There’s also a button on top of the truck that turns just the spotlight on.
The wheels are on both trucks really securely, so you can run them across the kitchen floor at full speed and not worry about it running into the fridge. It’s a smooth ride.
The smaller Ladder Rescue truck is fun in its own right. It’s got a fully extendable plastic ladder with a small water spout (not real!) on the end. Both trucks are sturdy and made of hard, solid plastic. The trim pieces (mirrors, ladder hose, front visors) feel a little flimsier than one might hope, but it would take a child’s deliberate act to break anything here. (Not outside the realm of possibility.) The ladder swivels a full 360 degrees and can be snapped into place when not extended.
The Ladder Rescue truck also lights up via an on/off switch on the bottom of the truck. What this means for parents is that your child will turn off all the lights and find the darkest place in the house right away, so as to test the truck properly. 🙂 Parents will also want to make sure to turn the toy off at night so as to not let the batteries drain.
You can’t open the doors to either truck, so your LEGO minifigures will have to latch on somewhere else, but there is plenty of room for them to hop on and go fight fires.
This is really an awesome toy, and the more I played with it (yes, I played with it), the more I enjoyed it. Hours of countless fun for children are inevitable. Both trucks are thoughtfully designed and excellently executed. And the Fire Truck is pretty giant as far as children’s toy vehicles go, so you could do well to make this the “big” present you’re getting your child(ren) this Christmas.
One other cool thing: Hess has made 100 individually numbered Silver Editions of the Fire Truck and Ladder Rescue toy. I got the expected red one and was not disappointed.
You find out more and purchase the truck here. You can find the Hess Toy Truck on social media (#2015HessToyTruck) here: Facebook/Twitter/Instagram.
Many thanks to the fine folks doing PR for Hess who set me up with the free product sample for review, with no expectations as the the review’s content.
You may know of PlaSmart from such toys as the PlasmaCar (a.k.a., COOL COOL CAR!). Turns out they make a host of other toys, too. In this post, my kids and I assess the Castletown Play Mat.
The mat measures 78″ by 46″, which is generally big enough for three kids to play on but not so huge that it dominates your living room.
The mat can withstand cars, trucks, LEGOs, and probably even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s highly durable. And its “coated EVA foam” means that when Ms. Three-Year-Old spills milk on it or Daddy spills coffee on it or Mommy spills wine on it (just kidding, honey), it will wipe up easily. Come to think of it… maybe I should just leave the mat on the carpet all the time to act as a stain guard!
It rolls up pretty easily, too, so you can store it in a corner of the room or throw it in the car on the way to a playdate, if you’re so inclined.
Here’s a closer look at the pattern:
As you can see, the pattern repeats but seamlessly links together–a fact that was not lost on my children, each of which had their own farm to focus on as they shared the mat.
Especially if you roll the mat up when you’re done and store it somewhere, bringing it out generally gets my kids’ attention, even though they are not babies anymore. I could see this mat being perfect for a one- or two-year-old, but even my eight-year-old enjoys flying his dragons over the castles and farms and breathing fire on them.
The roads are the perfect size for whatever plastic or metallic cars you’ve already got at home. DUPLOs and Playmobil also work well with the mat–really, any toy you have can find a nice home here.
The first few times we used it, it was hard to get it to lay flat without curling up a bit, but that phenomenon has gone away with additional play and use.
Not long after my 4-year-old son began doing book reviews on my blog (the best part of this blog, according to some), he had an idea.
“I know, Dad. We could review a toy! We could review a yo-yo!”
I emailed the folks at Duncan, not sure if there even is such a thing as a “review copy” of a toy, but, lo and behold, we got a yo-yo in the mail this week. Below, my 4-year-old son reviews it. Before we could profitably use it, weshortened the string, using this video to guide us, although the packaging did include instructions for that. Here’s my 4-year-old son now, in order of his observations as he played with it:
I’m not really good at using a yo-yo because I just learned.
In response to his two-year-old brother’s “Is it mine?” “Nope, not yours. It’s mine. So don’t play with it.”
I don’t think I can do it, Daddy. This is too hard for me. It’s good! But I don’t really know how to use it yet.
It’s a good knocker. It’s a good yo-yo.
I’ll tell you how it works. You roll it up, once you already use it first, and all we have to do is just get it up to your hands and pull it down and then bring it back up. That’s the end. That’s it.
(Later) It’s really easy to use.
(Later later) I can’t really do it! This knocker’s not very easy. I got to go to bed. Good night!
The folks who gave us a yo-yo for review (thanks!) emphasized that it’s for ages six and up. I see the wisdom in their age recommendation. Perhaps when “my 4-year-old son” becomes “my 6-year-old son,” we can have another go. For now, he’s finding other ways of having fun with the yo-yo, racing through the house and dragging it behind him.
UPDATE, three days later:See his original artwork (a yo-yo) here.