Where do kids play in the summer? Anywhere from the pool to the beach to the woods to “uh-oh” indoors on rainy days. Here are suggested playthings for all those venues.
The Giant Corkscrew intrigued our testers because of its unique twists and turns. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” declared the test supervisor. As pictured, it measures four feet in diameter, but when uncoiled, its full length is 26 feet. In its various configurations, girls and boys can enjoy swimming through, under and around it; lying down on it, hanging on to it and exploring many other play possibilities. Because of its huge size, the test supervisor recommend an electric pump for inflating it. Ages 5 and older, $25. (ALEX, 800-666-2539, www.alextoys.com)
The Backyard Explorer is a child’s version of the Swiss Army knife. This pocket-size tool kit helps kids discover the mysteries of nature. Eight attachments include a shovel, soil magnet, magnifying lens and – for trips away from home – a compass and signal mirror. A separate “bug patrol container” lets kids examine specimens to study more closely. Ages 5 and older, $17. (Educational Insights, 800-995-4436, www.edin.com)
The Fishing Chair has everything the amateur angler needs to insure a successful catch. There’s a folding sun chair, umbrella to prevent sunburn and cup with lid for refreshments. For the work at hand, there’s an extendible fishing rod, two magnetic fish and a net to put them in. When all is done, everything folds compactly for easy storage in the accompanying sturdy vinyl tote bag. Ages 3 – 7, $35 (Battat, 800-247-6144, www.battatco.com)
The HoverSphere is a land-based inflatable measuring two feet in diameter. For outdoor play, inflate it with air and spin it, bounce it, toss it, play volleyball or anything else you would do with a ball. When summer is over, it lives a second life indoors after you deflate then refill it with helium. Now it hovers in mid-air like a gravity-defying blimp ideal for doing tricks and playing slow-motion ball games. Just watch out for breakables! Made of a durable, long-lasting material, it has a visually appealing metallic swirling pattern. Ages 5 – 12, $10. (Overbreak, 800-799-5350, www.overbreak.com)
A non-competitive game in which children help each other build pretend sand castles. When large waves begin to move towards the shore, players have to make a big decision: build a sand wall to protect the castles or complete the castles before the waves wash them away. They gather sand, share their pails and shovels and work hard together in a race against the waves. They win or lose as a group, depending on whether decisions and strategy save the sand castles. Includes: six-inch-by-24-inch board, pails, shovels, sand castles, waves, sand walls, die and chart. Ages 5 and older, $15. (Family Pastimes, 888-267-4414, www.familypastimes.com)
TopiTop lets you build sand castles when you can’t actually be at the beach. The subtitle, “Showdown in the Sand,” warns that this is tough competition. Each of two players gets two buckets. Eight sand piles (four large and four small) are shared. Taking turns on a board imprinted with nine sand areas (spaces on which to move), players put small sand piles onto big ones and their own buckets on top thereby creating a “sand castle.” The first player to complete two sand castles wins. The rules are simple enough to learn in two minutes, but the strategy will challenge all ages – including eight adults who had a heated discussion over almost every move while trying to analyze each possibility. Board and all playing pieces are wood. Ages 5 and older, $20. (Blue Orange Games, 415-252-0372, www.blueorangegames.com)
Explorer’s Gloves protect kids’ hands on scientific expeditions, while keeping necessary tools readily “on hand” – or to be exact, on the gloves themselves. The 10-year-old California boy who thought up this idea realized the need for accessible tools while on big adventures. So the gloves he designed incorporate lights, a compass, magnifying glass, digital clock, tweezers, clips and a utility cord. His invention was part of Wild Planet’s annual Kid Inventor Challenge contest; he receives royalties on each pair sold, and his photo appears on the box. Information on how children can enter the contest is on the manufacturer’s website. Ages 4 and older, $20. (Wild Planet Toys, 800-247-6570, www.wildplanet.com)