Critter Carnival By Helen Grebe

While parents may be rejoicing the finale of summer, going back to school is a weighty experience for most kids. There’s the pre-class jitters (Which teacher will I get? Will my best friend be in my class?  What if no one likes me?) There’s the adjustment: long summer days and even longer summer nights fade into recess, 3 p.m. bells and homework before dinner.  Ease their way into heading back by outfitting them with a few things that make learning “cool” just in time for school.

Age 1-3

HIS: Lions & Tigers and Bugs, oh my!  Get up close and personal with nature when you grab a bug with your very own Grab a Bug Vacuum ($14.99).  The vacuum allows little fingers to avoid touching delicate wings and comes complete with a magnifying glass for up-close viewing.  Invite your new friend to stay overnight in the Critter Carnival, a real life playground for bugs ($12).

HERS: Develop an early affinity for numbers with the Numbers Match Up Game. Matching numbers enhances memory and the game also doubles as a floor puzzle ($17). Create a rainbow of possibility with Colorama, a game of manual dexterity and logical thinking that introduces colors and shapes.  Your little one will be head of the class when she’s mastered her colors and shapes! (12.99)

BOTH: Growing pains? Turn them into growing gains with Ruler Growth, a fabric chart that helps children chart their growth in (and learn) inches and meters with a felt “pencil” that fastens as they grow ($14.99). My you’re so big!

Pre-K (3-5)

HIS: Nothing says “hip” better than a new backpack.  We like the sports-themed rolling back-pack. The wheels let them feel “big” by rolling their own bag into school ($43).  Channel his inner heebie-jeebies and lay the groundwork for future homework sessions with My Busy Book, chock full of brain-building activities that gives preschoolers a head start with over 48 wipe off puzzles and games ($9.95).

HERS: Give her creative wings flight when she makes her own purse and bracelet with Super Simple Sewing. The kit teaches easy stitch sewing and enables her to “show off” her end results ($12.95).  Bake up some sweet after-school memories with the Cutie Cupcake Baker, a nonstick pan complete with liners and recipe cards, allowing your budding chef to create and decorate her own confections ($19). Assist the baking experience with her own Lil Chef Set, complete with child’s size oven mitt, apron, hot pad and tea towel ($12).

BOTH: Stretch summer a little longer with My Little Sandbox, a mini sandbox that brings the fun of the beach indoors. Sand is self-contained and playtime develops small motor muscles. Themes include construction, beach, mermaid, and circus, among others ($30).


HIS: Strum a tune and inspire his inner-artist with My First Classical Guitar.  It’s a real guitar with strings and live notes, small enough to fit young hands perfectly.  Start now and you’ll inspire a devotion to music ($21). Lunchtime can be a prehistoric adventure with his new dinosaur lunch bag by Stephen Joseph. Made out of breathable nylon fabric, the insulated interior keeps things cool while a mesh pocket allows for napkins, forks and even a cave-man type love note from mom ($15).

HERS: Imagining the worst scenario and figuring out that it all ends up great is a wonderful way to ease your little girl’s fear of new situations.  This Atlanta-based author’s story illustrates a wonderful lesson in stopping to listen and seeing things in a new way. Nobody Likes Me by Cynthia Dekel ($12.95). Still a sticky situation? Chew on this: it’s no problem with the Bubblegum Factory Kit which allows your budding NASA scientist to create gobs of her own gum, mixing and matching different flavors ($19.99).

BOTH: Sleuth out their day with Sherlock, a game that teaches players to remember clues and makes memory and deduction elementary ($8.99).  As they venture off to school, continue to encourage them to share their day over a cool treat both kids and parents can get excited about: frozen yogurt (with live active cultures for digestion and low-fat, low-sugar options)!  We like Menchie’s for their kid-friendly, self-serve approach and all-you-can-handle sampling that suits picky little taste buds (


HIS: “Disgusting” and “gross” are two words that will have your son’s total attention- which is exactly why you have to get the Disgusting Science Kit. It teaches him to grow his own mold, germs, even a stinky intestine. Hold your breath and grin through it; you’ll thank me when he’s a neurosurgeon ($19.99).

HERS: Gathering at her locker will be chic with her Molly & Me Locker Memo Board. With a cork board for pinning notes, a mirror for primping and pen with dry erase board for reminders, this handy organizer will have her multi-tasking before the age of ten ($18).  At home, she can keep her secrets safe from pesky little brothers with My Secret Safe, a real metal safe with combo lock, coin tray (encouraging saving money) and alarm ($23).

BOTH: Travel around the world together constructing Puzzleball, the spherical globe puzzle. Ask your children where they’d like to travel as they put together the Indian Ocean and traverse across Africa ($18). Stir up something sweet together when you indulge in the Ice Cream Science Kit.  Investigate why rock salt is used in making ice cream, how the size of ice crystals makes ice cream gritty or smooth and learn about solids, liquids and gasses ($19.99).

All toys and games can be found at Gretchen’s in Buckhead at or Learning Express at

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

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