Afraid your kids will grow up soft? Here’s a toy that will help.

Rube Goldberg ImageI’m  convinced  Rube Goldberg machines and toys that mimic them are game changers. They teach kids about perseverance, reacting to unexpected outcomes, and pivoting to achieve a goal – whether it’s turning a light on, tripping a mousetrap, or launching a flying pig (more on that, below).

You’ve probably seen a Rube Goldberg machine – an over-engineered machine with tons of parts, designed to perform a simple task in a complex way. And they usually involve a chain reaction. (Thank you, Wikipedia).

What’s the point of  complexity? (You may ask) When was the last time you did something you really had to think through and that took several iterations? How about your kids? I’ll be honest– mine, not so much. Even when my child has the chance to face a challenge, there’s almost never time to work through it vs the time we need to get through the day. For many years I’ve been VERY guilty of tackling a lot of stuff on her behalf.

Suddenly I was slapped with a scary glimpse of my future. It was a quiet morning: my daughter traipsed into her (private) bathroom, climbed into the shower after running the water a few minutes and screamed bloody murder BECAUSE THE WATER TOOK LONGER TO WARM UP AND IT WAS COLD.

The sound abruptly woke me out of an awesome sleep and simultaneously jolted me into a harsh reality: my kid has it easy. My kid is SOFT. I had a sudden vision of her years down the road at college complaining how her hot water hadn’t come on fast enough while her dorm mates looked on in disgust or worse, AGREED .

Immediately I set out to unravel  years of damage I’d done (hoping it would take no more than 45 minutes or less). After we tackled a few chores around the house, I decided it might be time for a lesson that was less boring – for me. What? Have you ever watched a 7-year-old sweep, or vacuum? Sure, they can DO it but….yeesh was it dull.

A mental challenge seemed in order: something to develop creativity and intuition. Or at the very least, ensure that the kid took a moment before taking stepping in the shower. And waking me up.

As someone in the toy business, I see a lot of pretty cool contraptions and here are my top 3 picks. A quick note – most toys in this category are for kids age 6 and up. They involve relatively sophisticated concepts, manual dexterity, extreme patience, and small pieces. They can be awesome for kids that can sit and focus on a task and like to do something more than once, experimenting with variations.


Pick #1: The Wacky & Wild Contraption Lab The word “contraption” drew me to this toy, and it didn’t let me down. I first saw it at a Toy Fair where it was on a list of top toy finalists. It captured best toy awards from Creative Child Magazine, Good housekeeping, and the Association of Specialty Toy Resellers in 2012 and 2013. Designed for kids 8 and up, I watched a 13-year-old play with it for 25 minutes. Seeing no end in sight, I finally interrupted him to find out what had him hooked.

“There are so many things I could do to change things around – and each tool .”

Did I mention that one of the tasks a kid can set up is launching a flying pig?

Goldiblox-and-Spinning-MachinePick #2: Goldiblox & The Spinning Machine Even though it’s marketed as a toy for girls, it’s a fun toy for both sexes. I’ve played with it and the concepts are pretty clever. Also, it’s got interesting characters and a story that explores construction in a way that is appealing to kids (not just girls, all kids). There are axels, cranks, wheels, and washers. While it may not appear super sophisticated, it’s a great start to educate kids about building tools. Do you realize how little the average kid knows about that stuff? Here’s a challenge: Try showing a kid 8 or younger a can opener and asking them what they think it does.

My 7 year old found Goldiblox challenging and I know a few 9 year olds who had fun playing with it.

Q-Ba-Maze-2.0Pick #3: Q Ba Maze Warning, this gets controversial (for hardcore engineering types – if that’s not you, it doesn’t). A marble run like Q Ba Maze is not TECHNICALLY a Rube Goldberg machine; it doesn’t have a variety of components and it isn’t constructed to achieve a specific goal (no mouse trapped, light bulb lit, pig launched), so let’s call it the entry point into Rube Goldberg machines.

Because it does share some aspects of Rube Goldberg machines. You can use Q Ba Maze to build different structures and with each change the marble’s path will be radically altered. It’s much easier to build than most Rube Goldberg machines so kids can start as young as 5 with simple structures (even 4 if they are just watching the marble go through the maze).

What toys have you found to make kids smarter? I bet it wasn’t an iPad!

Or was it? Let me know!

Cristina Sierra_14






3 Valentine’s Day gifts that show kids the LOVE

3 Valentine’s Day gifts that show kids the LOVE
3 Valentine’s Day gifts that show kids the LOVE
3 Valentine’s Day gifts that show kids the LOVE
3 Valentine’s Day gifts that show kids the LOVE
As Valentine’s Day looms, my mind shifts to all the candy and small plastic items my kid will get on Valentine’s Day. You know what – there’s nothing REALLY wrong with it and I see why it’s so common but where’s the love in that stuff?  Maybe it’s a good time for  unique (and fat free) gift options that will mark the day for that special child, niece, nephew, or godchild in your life, eh? I came up with a list of toys that can help develop a passion (of cooking, chemistry, or the fun of MAKING candy vs just buying it), show their love, or be the object of love.
Here 3 simple ideas I love to help kids of different age ranges develop or demonstrate feel the love.
Candy-Chemistry1. Candy Chemistry - The perfect kit for tween (10 and older) who can be described as ‘innovative / creative’ to explore chemistry as they cook up candies and chocolates! This yummy science kit allows kids to perform 25 sweet experiments and learn the importance of physical science principles related to cooking.Trust me, this gift rocks and will help bring out a love of cooking and provide a way for your favorite tween to share some love with his / her friends and family.
Candy-Flowers-Baby2. Corolle Candy Flowers: Shouldn’t children show their love on Valentine’s Day? Of course! So we present an enchanting first doll for newborns and up. This adorable baby is soft and light, dressed in plush velour pajamas. Designed by a team in the Loire Valley, France these dolls look and feel as real as possible with faces inspired by real children. This particular gal has an ultra-plush body that is made for hugging and cuddling and easy for tiny fingers to grasp and explore.
In short, everything about this baby says “love”.
ApplePark-TM003-A3. This sweet Picnic Pal by ApplePark will become your child, girlfriend, or even admin or co-worker’s best buddy! This line of plush animals are made for snuggling or playing – with their soft 100% organic cotton bodies, silk noses and naturally hypoallergenic filling. Since they are made with with eco-friendly materials and methods like 100% organic cotton, eyes that are hand sewn, and heirloom quality craftsmanship, they will be a loving companion for years to come.
Incidentally, they come packaged in a gorgeous round box that is to.die.for.
What do you think – are toys a good idea on Valentine’s Day or is it just getting too commercial altogether?
I’d love to hear what you think…
Cristina Sierra_14

7 small gifts that will be BIG hits this holiday season

I'm bored Jar

Landfill Toy – Land*fill*toi (n) - a small  plastic toy with a play lifespan under 30 minutes, guaranteed to be tossed aside and ultimately embedded in the foot of an unsuspecting adult (like you). Commonly used to supplement the big Christmas / 8th night of Hanukkah gifts.

Can we all agree that landfill toys will be banned from our 2013 holiday celebrations? I don’t know about you but I dread that feeling when I purge all the discarded junk in my house on Jan 2. I get plenty of guilt from my mom (Catholic) and my MIL (Jewish). Nor do I need to experience the familiar shooting pain when I accidentally step on one.

This year join me as I eliminate guilt and pain related to the common stocking stuffer / early Hanukkah filler with small but spectacular gifts. Because small toys can be winners – not only do they keep kids busy during the holidays, they  travel well. Which means they’ll be lifesavers at the airport, on the tarmac, in a traffic jam on the way to grandma’s house – or any other time you can’t stomach bored, shrill voices screeching “HOW MUCH LONGER??????????”.

Without further ado, here are 7 gifts to keep  your spirits and sanity intact:

1. Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty – Age 3 and up: Crazy Aaron’s thinking Putty is upgraded Putty – it comes packed in a neat little tin that doesn’t leak, never dries out, and comes in many radical styles including magnetic, iridescent, glow in the dark, etc. Kids can do a variety of experiments with the putty and if they need ideas, Crazy Aaron (he’s real) has posted a bunch of videos on YouTube.


2. Squigz – Age 3 and up –  fun, innovative building toys. They adhere to each other (or anything, really) with suction, making for are endless possibilities. You can build up, sideways, down, diagonal, etc. Just launched this year, they’ve already won numerous awards – you will look extremely on top of your game with these.



3. Tegu – Age 3 – 103 (seriously): Beautiful building blocks with a conscience – eco friendly, easy to use (the ends of each piece contains magnets so again – endless building possibilities). Best of all, the company gives back to the region of Tegucigalpa where the wood is sustainably farmed. I recommend the car kits.



4. Tenzi -Age 4 and up: A thrilling dice game that will hook you and your kids from the first roll. Only child? No problem – it can be played alone! More than one child? Up to four players can duel it out using the basic rules or one of the 10 different variations.





5. Klutz Kits – Age 6 and up: These kits are interesting, easy to follow along, and addictive. For younger kids, I love Cat’s Cradle, which is a lost art that girls (and boys) can do on their own.

Nano Terrier

6. Nanoblocks – Age 7 and up: If you could shrink Legos you would Nanoblocks. These kits come in small, resealable pouches with several pieces (60 and up), to build the dandiest little creatures. Alpaca anyone? Parrot? Polar Bear? Tree Frog? I’ve tried my hand at building one and due to the number of pieces and the size it definitely takes a good 45 minutes of intense concentration – not counting the playtime once they’re constructed. Challenge two kids to a contest to see who can build them the fastest.



7. Spirograph!!! YES THE TOY WE ALL GREW UP WITH!! If you remember Spirograph as a kid, it’s back and it’s fantastic. This is definitely a gift for the older child – age 8-14 although a 7 year old can manipulate it with intense concentration (i.e quiet time for you!!!). It comes a bunch of spirograph wheels, putty (to hold the spirograph in place), writing instruments, a full color Designers Guide, including fundamentals of drawing with Spirograph and for the novices,  step-by-step instructions for creating your own designs

In fact, don’t worry about the kids. Get this at least toy for yourself. Once your kids see how much fun you’re having they may realize it’s time to play with their toys – either way, mission accomplished.

Happy almost holidays!

Cristina Sierra_14







Hi there! I’m the founder of, a site for well-intentioned but busy people who are tired of forgetting their nieces’, nephews’, godchildren or any other kids’ birthdays and holidays. Feel free to connect via Twitter @nevermissgift or Facebook ( for gift ideas and a little dry humor….