Great Ideas for Summer Play! – The Toy Guy


Well, here it is summer again. It’s the second summer of the pandemic, and while we’re all encouraged by things opening up, more travel possible, and vaccinations expanded to 12-15-year-olds, there’s lots of good news.

Time to get out and play!

Still, as parents may not be back to physical offices yet, as school ends for the summer, the home—and especially the backyard—are going to be the top vacation destination for this year. At the same time, giving kids autonomy (and boundaries) is a positive developmental step, too. It’s important to make kids responsible for their own fun, and our summers were full of both structured and unstructured time, though when it was unstructured, we had to figure it out. Saying, “I’m bored” was not allowed.

So, as we give kids the freedom to choose their activities, it’s important to provide options that can incorporate diverse play experiences that will engage the total child, intellectually, creatively and physically. We’ve put together a list of some of the toys and activities that provide a balance of things to do and discover.

Use Your Body

Being physically active in warm weather is one of the great pleasures of summer. Some kids will be part of organized teams, which may start meeting again, particularly as tweens and teens get a jab.

But there’s nothing like running around the yard or a pickup game of, well, anything. Here are some ideas to get your body moving.

Go crazy with these sustainable fast-fill water balloons!

Crazy Bunch O Balloons from Zuru
For ages 3 and up.
$8.49
Where to Buy
Get the best advantage in a water balloon battle! Bunch O Balloons allows water warriors to fill and tie 100 balloons in 60 seconds. The new Crazy line features lots of different colors. And there’s something else, that’s equally important. ZURU is committed to sustainability, and this new line is made from 100 percent recycled plastic and is completely recyclable. (Through a program with TerraCycle.) As sustainability becomes an increasingly important issue with parents and toy buyers—and to the toy industry—ZURU’s leadership in this area means classic fun that takes care of the planet.

A great racquet sport for players of all ages!

Pickleball from Pickleball
For all ages.
Prices Vary
Where to Buy
In 2021, the racquet sport Pickleball turns 56, but don’t worry if you’re just hearing of it. The recent boom in play for people of all ages has virtually turned the game into an overnight sensation as it spreads around the country and the world. Pickleball is played with a perforated ball (sort of a cross between a Badminton bird and a tennis ball) on a smaller court. It’s an active game to be sure, but less aggressive for tennis, and very easy for people of different ages to play together—from kids under 10 to seniors. It’s easy to learn, and you can set up a court anywhere you would play Badminton, provided there’s a surface that balls can bounce on. Plus, many parks are making tennis courts dual use as Pickleball courts. It’s fun, relaxing, and a great workout all at once, and for kids especially, it’s a lot less frustrating to learn and master than tennis. Check out the official website for Pickelball to find out more.

This is the one we want for water battles.

X-Shot Epic Fast Fill from Zuru
For ages 3 and up.
$14.99
Where to Buy
Okay, we’re still talking about this one. From a toy invention standpoint, this is the ultimate, “Why did no one ever think of this before?” moment. One of the downsides of a pitched water battle is when you have to run to the hose and figure out how to refill your blaster without getting drenched by your opponents. Well, problem solved with this ingenious, yet simple design. Flip open the back of the blaster, and you can fill the tank in seconds either in a pool or with a hose. You’re back in the battle before you can get damp, and the power and range of this blaster are outstanding. Oh, and we’re kind of crazy about all this performance and the really great price.

Not your usual ball, but wow is it fun!

Wing Ball from Hog Wild
For ages 8 and up.
$14.99
Where to Buy
Sure, it’s a little weird looking—at least compared to other “balls.” Okay, so we won’t call it a ball. How about “tubular throwing toy?” Yikes. Whatever you call it, this has advanced design that lets air pass through its body so you throw it with super speed and distance. Plus, it’s easy, so if you could never throw a football spiral (like us), you can master this after a few throws. Perfect for games of catch in the backyard, at the beach, or make up your own games.

This hide-and-seek activity is putty in your hands.

Hide Inside Collection: Flower Finds/Mixed Emotions from Crazy Aaron’s
For Ages 3 and up.
$9.99
Where to Buy
Not every physical toy is built on gross motor activity. In fact, we had to (finally) put this one down to write this. Crazy Aaron’s Hide Inside Thinking Putty is just cool. It’s the company’s never-dries-out putty with lots of little things inside. But each set has six things to find as you knead, pull, and play with the putty. There are six things to find, hidden among the various pieces in the putty, and you’d be surprised how absorbing it can be to play. Plus, manipulating the putty is great for stress release. It’s great for travel as it comes in a metal tin, and just fiddling with it is extremely soothing. We love all the Crazy Aaron’ putties, and there’s always one within easy reach, and integrating a game-like experience is crazy creative…just as we’d expect. (Note: This stuff is really popular. You may have to shop around to find it at the suggested retail price, and we’ll update the link as we find better prices.)

If classic horseshoes got in the pool…

Skim to the Pin from Waterline Toys
For ages 3 and up.
$39.99
Where to Buy
Get ready to be cool in the pool with a new take on flying disc games. The sets include two SkimBe flying discs and a floating target. The gameplay is like horseshoes as individual players or teams compete to get their disc closest to the pin. Or, of course you can make up your own games. It’s designed for the pool, but we can imagine this at a lake or, for a big challenge, at the seashore. The game can work on dry land as well. We like this for open-ended, creative play with a classic play pattern that’s good for players of all skill levels.

This retro ride is hot for this summer!

Flashback BMX Kick Scooter from Razor
Ages 8 and up.
$129.99
Where to Buy
Retro-inspired 80s design (very hot), big wheels, a smooth ride and dazzling neon colors make this one of our favorite scooters for the summer. It’s easy to kick along, has a smooth ride, and holds up to 220 pounds, so lots of people can take turns speeding down the sidewalk.

High performance electric scooter for work or play.

Globber One K-E Motion 10 Scooter from Globber
For ages 14 and up.
$299
Where to Buy
The electric scooter is quickly becoming the go-to transportation choice for fun and easy. The Globber One K E-Motion 10 scooter is a fast electric scooter for urban explorers and the perfect ride for teens and adults. Sleek, stylish, and contemporary, it comes equipped with comfortable TPR handlebar grips with an LED headlight and an adjustable steering column. The One K E-Motion 10 is boosted by high-tech conception that reinforces its durability, strength and sustainability and comes with a long-lasting 36V lithium battery to deliver a high-performance and safe ride. Be sure to be careful, use appropriate lanes and wear a helmet!

It’s a mash-up of two crazy games.

Foosketball from Hasbro Gaming
For ages 8 and up.
$19.99
Where to Buy
Shoot and score with this challenging game from Hasbro. It’s a mash-up Foosball and Basketball, and it requires more than a little skill to get it right. Get your players to catch the ball. That’s hard part number one. Then line it up and shoot at the basket. That’s hard part number two. There’s a bit of a learning curve to get this right, but even if it takes some time to become highly skilled, you’re guaranteed a lot of laughs along the way…as well as a desire to keep trying.

Everyone wants their kids to be well-balanced.

KidKraft Turtle Totter Balance Beam
For ages 2 and up.
$79.99
Where to Buy
Little gymnasts can create all kinds of challenges indoors or out with this set. Connect the beams to the turtles, and then try to balance as you walk along. You’re always close to the ground, so there’s no real risk of falling off. It’s all about learning to balance, hold the core and challenge yourself. You can configure your challenges in many different ways, too.

The perfect sprinkler for summer fun.

Watermelon Sprinkler from KessCo
For ages 6 and up.
$39.99
Coming in July
Talk about your juicy watermelon! This big inflatable sprinkler makes a wide-ranging, gentle shower that makes cooling off fun. Use your phone to inflate the watermelon and power the built-in pump. Then connect the hose, and you’re ready to run around and get soaked…in a good way. The inflated watermelon is light and can withstand being bumped and run into.

Bubbles like you wouldn’t believe!

WOWMazing Bubbles from South Beach Bubbles 
For ages 6 and up.
$16.99
Where to Buy
These truly are amazing bubbles. Mix up the solution from concentrate, dip the wands in, gently lift and open and then move the wands to create huge bubbles. You may have seen buskers doing these in parks, but this is a set you can do at home. Pay attention to the speed with which you work, stand with the wind behind you, and move slowly for best results. This is definitely for outside play, as you go through a lot of solution. Fortunately, refills are available.

 

Use Your Mind

School may be out, but kids are still eager to learn. For kids, knowledge is a kind of currency for them, and learning and sharing new things is a source of pride in accomplishment. Freed from the curricula of the school year, kids can take pleasure in learning new things. Here are some things that will engage kids of all ages in learning adventures.

Learning excitement all summer long!

Summer Bridge Activities and Disney Learning from Carson Dellosa Education
For ages 4-13.
$9.99-$12.99
Where to Buy
Even if school is out learning can go on. Kids actually love acquiring information and mastering subject matter when the process is engaging and fun. That’s the idea behind the workbooks and flash cards from Carson Dellosa Education. Bridge Activities books for kids in Pre-K through 8th grade are packed with things kids can do to stay mentally active during the summer with language arts, math and more. The Disney Learning collection also offers Magical Adventure Workbooks and Big Flash Cards that make curricula fun with favorite Disney friends. Particularly in this year when bridging school and home has been sometimes challenging, these colorful, engaging tools are a valuable tool—and take only 15 minutes a day.

Great book for exploring and learning!

LeapFrog 100 Words About Places I Go from LeapFrog
For ages 18 months and up.
$19.99
Where to Buy
For a first book that encourages learning and language skills, we’ve been big fans of the LeapFrog 100 Words series. The latest one is all about exploring the places they go. With age-appropriate words, kids will travel in their imaginations to such places as the park, farm, amusement park, and school. In addition to language immersion, the book has 10 touch points that help kids learn about works, colors, and counting. Plus, the book is bilingual, featuring content in English and Spanish.

 

Strategy, design and incredible fun!

Gridopolis from Gridopolis
For ages 8 and up.
$39.99
Where to Buy
Gridopolis is a 3D strategy game and a game creation system. To play the strategy game, players move, jump and build around the board. And guess what? the board can change, too, so you always have to be thinking ahead—and in multiple dimensions. We really haven’t seen anything like it. As fun as the game is, it’s also a great creative tool, as kids can become their own board game designers using the 7 basic pieces. Check out the game’s site for more ideas and guides for creativity. Gridopolis is especially great for families and educators because it teaches strategy, logic, and spatial visualization, and promotes social, screen-free play.

Watch little things grow…almost in front of your eyes!

Growing Gardeners Greenhouse from Hape
For ages 3 and up.
$12.99
Where to Buy
Few things fascinate kids as much as growing their own plants from seeds. Any parent who has done this project with a kid knows the eagerness of the daily check in…and the excitement when things start to grow. This mini greenhouse is perfect for the activity, easy to set up, virtually mess free—and made from sustainable materials. Use the bamboo roller to create pots from regular paper. Plant your seeds. Water, and you’re a gardener! It’s a great way to teach kids to be responsible stewards of the planet. We also like that the size is good for kids, the dome keeps everything self-contained, and helps with germination and sprouting. There’s nothing like the excitement and pride of growing your own plants—and kids are engaged in hands-on learning.

A great way to engage kids in learning and storytelling.

Storypod from Storypod
For ages 3 and up.
$99
Where to Buy
Kids’ audio is one of the hottest growing categories in the toy world this year. Storypod is an entertainment system that engages kids through songs, stories, and games. The main unit is a 360-degree speaker that’s brought to life by figurines placed on top. There are also read along storybooks and games. Why are we so excited about audio? It’s not really anything new. For today’s kids who spend so much time on screens, it’s easy to forget that audio encourages listening skills, imagination, and vocabulary building. Once everything is activated through WiFi and a phone app, the unit is stand-alone and not connected to any online destinations, which makes it completely secure for kids and easy to travel with physically. (The imaginative travel is built in, too!)

These crazy things are really a science project!

Aero Dancer from Thames & Kosmos
For ages 8 and up.
$19.95
Where to Buy
You’ve seen them outside every used car lot for years. And now you can make a mini air dancer right in your home. Did you know that this is also a science project? Yep, you’re going to learn about air pressure, airflow dynamics, and a whole lot of science stuff. Bet you didn’t know how much goes into these silly-looking things? Leave it to Thames & Kosmos to turn it into an engaging and fun-filled project with a bunch of different experiments. And you get something pretty fun at the end, too.

Use Your Imagination

Get ready for the new battling, action collection!

Akedo from Moose Toys
For ages 6 and up.
$4.99-$29.99
Coming in August
With Toy Fairs cancelled this year, there were only a handful of toys we got to preview, and this is one we think is going to be BIG. It combines action figures, collectability, great stories, and play that goes from the simple to the strategic. There are 39 different figures to collect (and you know kids will want to), and the figures can battle with one another for that classic conflict, battling play kids love. When you get good at it, challenge your skills in the Ultimate Battle Arena. This is tons of action, tons of fun, and your figures will be splitting (when you land the perfect punch) as much as your sides will be from the hilarious action.

So much color! And no mess!

Color Wonder Foldalopes and Activity Pads from Crayola
For ages 3 and up.
$4.99-$7.99
Where to Buy
Ever since Crayola introduced their Color Wonder products, we’ve been big fans. The “magic” is that the markers only show up in color on the special paper in the pads. So, even if a stray mark appears on a wall, clothing or anywhere off the paper, you won’t have color to deal with. These new sets are great to take along on trips because in addition to the mess-free element, they’re self-contained with built-in storage. Plus, you get favorite characters like Blue’s Clues, My Little Pony, Baby Shark, Paw Patrol, and more.

Foldable bucket and toys. Perfect for sand play!

Fold & Go Beach Set from Hape
For ages 18 months and up.
$12.99
Where to Buy
For digging in the backyard or beachbound adventures, this is a great set. It’s got a collapsible pail that folds down flat and holds digging and molding toys. The lining is waterproof, and simply swish it out with water to tidy up. Plus, since it all zips up, you can take along the treasures you find on beach walks.

He shoots. He scores!

Space Jam: A New Legacy Super Shoot and Dunk LeBron James from Moose
For ages 5 and up.
$19.99
Where to Buy
The remake of the hit film Space Jam starring LeBron James hits theaters and HBO Max in July. But kids can get into the action now with this action toy. It’s a classic action figure toy with lots of action as kids place the figure on the launcher and go for a three-pointer, or even a slam dunk.

So many fun surprises!

Vlad & Niki Superhero Surprise from Zuru
Ages 3 and up.
$14.99
Coming soon to Target
If you don’t know the YouTube channel of these little Russian kids, we’re betting your kids do. Based on the #2 global YouTube channel, these giant eggs include more than 20 surprises and mini toys as well as an included comic book. The play starts with unboxing and the fun keeps going.

Adorable collectibles are scrunch-tastic!

ScrunchMiez from Moose
Ages 5-14
$4.99 (single) $19.99 (4-pack)
Where To Buy
Cute. Collectible. Fun-filled fashion! These whimsical critters transform from adorable collectible animals that transform into hair scrunchies (or can be attached by a barette). There are more than 26 different adorable pals to collect from kittens and puppies to unicorns and pandas. As kids get to spend more time with one another this year, the collectability combined with the wear-and-share opportunities will brighten up any summer day.

 

Collect and play fun. It’s in the bag!

Real Littles Handbags from Moose
For ages 6-11
$7.99
Where to Buy
Mini collectibles are hot. (Nothing new there. You can go back to the 1960s and find toys in this vein that kids loved.) These are mini handbags that really work and have mini accessories and other surprises inside. They have great finishes and creative designs including mermaid, llama and unicorn themes. And, like real fashion handbags, Moose will be introducing new collections each season. Have fun and carry on!

It’s not too early to plan your summer play activities, especially if you’re ordering online. Things are getting a lot better, but delivery times are a bit slower than usual, so before you push that “buy” button, make sure you check when your treasures will be arriving. This year has also seen some challenges in shipping, so popular toys are selling out quicker than ever.

 

Prehistoric creativity for today’s kids!

Play-Doh Slime Dino Crew Lava Bones Island from Hasbro
Ages 4 and up.
$19.99
Where to Buy 
Here’s your chance to make history. Well, make-believe PRE-history. Play-Doh has been knocking it out of the park recently with a bunch of new compounds that really increase the play. use the Play-Doh Slime Hydroglitz to make the volcano erupt and pretend to fill the valley with pretend lava. You can make dinos using the molds and then unearth them. We just love this fun play, which combines several classic play patterns all in one set. It includes four eggs filled with the compound, plus pretend gems for you to unearth. Plus, it’s not really that messy, so kids can get really creative without parents worrying.

The ultimate for make-believe play!

Color-in Princess Castle and Fire Truck from Cardboard Magic
Ages 3 and up.
$60.00
Where to Buy
Be prepared for your fantastic flights (make-believe) in this cardboard playsets. Completely eco-friendly, Princess Castle and the Firetruck are big fun indoors and out, and there’s room inside for make-believe play. The white cardboard is easy to decorate in any way you choose, so it’s a combination of crafting and playset that kids will love. This is just one of the outstanding products from this start-up company formed during the pandemic. We also like the Food Truck, Rocket Ships, and many more. These are easy to set-up, super sturdy and classic, open-ended, imaginative play that will keep kids engaged for hours. (Plus, you probably only get one refrigerator box to play with per childhood, so this takes that concept and makes it so much more fun!)

This game is nuts! In a good way.

Hide ‘N Cheek from Big G Games
For ages 6 and up.
$19.99
Where to Buy
Get ready to turn into an hilarious woodland creature with this fast-paced game kids will go nuts for. Hunt for the acorns and stuff them in your cheeks. It’s all about being silly and seeing how much you can stuff in those cheeks. The game is designed for 2-to-4 players, and the elastic bands on the masks means the whole family can play.

Out of this world family fun!

Drone Home from PlayMonster
For ages 8 and up.
$19.99
Where to Buy
We love this game. It’s a combination of fast-paced action, whimsy and surprise. Your job is to help all your aliens to escape. Shoot them into the drone, but be quick because you might get knocked out. When an alien lands in the drone, it lifts off, and players have to catch it in flight. It’s a clever game that’s a great value. For two to four players.

And check back here, as we’ll be adding to this list on a regular basis as we have the chance to review toys that will make your summer play full!

No empty playgrounds this summer!

 

DISCLOSURE: PURCHASE LINKS ARE TO PLACES THAT HAD IN-STOCK AVAILABILITY AT THE TIME OF PUBLICATION. THE TOY GUY DOES NOT RECEIVE ANY COMMISSION OR FEES IF YOU PURCHASE THROUGH THOSE LINKS. PRICES LISTED HERE ARE MANUFACTURER’S SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICES. IN SOME CASES, PRICES MAY VARY.



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