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






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….

Finally: a game for kids that you deserve

Hot Picture

Join me on a 5 minute journey and I’ll prove to you the dice game Tenzi, while positioned as a game for kids, is really made for you.

It was a typical hot day in August here in Texas. You know what August days are like in Texas? Hot. Not Africa hot, not Vegas hot, but a unique version of hot that can best be expressed thusly:


The kind of hot that evokes words like “blazing”, “humid” and “unbearable”. It was August, the end of summer, and the ennui (fancy word for boredom) set in – along with TV Ads for school clothes, supplies, shoes, and whatever else could plausibly be tagged as a “back to school” item.

But I digress – the natives (a 10, 9, and 7 year old) peered out at the pool contemplating how long it would take to layer enough sunblock to avoid spontaneous combustion in the 104 degree heat.

Then, out of the blue, mom walked in with a spring in her step. What was up her sleeve? (they wondered).

The answer: Tenzi



Tenzi is a dice game. An award winning dice game. But “game” doesn’t do it justice – it’s an all out assault against your opponents. It requires fast reflexes, eagle eyes, and the ability to make decisions – QUICKLY. It can be played with 1 to 4 players who each get 10 dice.

Here’s how it works:

When someone yells “GO!” each player begins rolling furiously trying to be the first to roll all 10 of the same number first at which point the winner can SEIZE VICTORY BY YELLING “TENZI!!!!”.

Can’t you feel the excitement??? Take THAT, ennui. As a bonus, there are 10 variations of Tenzi included in the Tenzi package and more (73 at last count) in a booklet sold separately.

Here’s how our young friends describe the game after playing with it for a few days:

1. “Fun!”, “Cool!”, “Different” – different is key (which is why it’s in bold). No one likes to play the same game repeatedly. Different leads to curiosity, leads to let’s check this out, leads to let’s play another round this time I go first. Leads to mom having ‘me time’. A good result.

2. “Could be used at parties”, “Could be used for stacking”, “Could be used on a trip” – aha! It’s compact and travels well, also versatile (name another toy that can be used for ‘stacking’ in less than 2 minutes – didn’t think so).

3. The best part of the game? “It can be played lots of different ways”, “it’s great for competing against others” – IMPORTANT – Tenzi comes with instructions to play it 10 different variations. Think you’ll get bored of this game? Not bloody likely, my friend. Not until you’ve exhausted all 10 variations and even then all you need to do is add another player and it’s a whole new game.

And what about competition? Healthy competition, I mean. Limit the stealing of diaries, chasing each other in an attempt to beat each other to a pulp, general name calling (somewhat). Open up to competition between reflexes, dexterity, and mental cognition.

To summarize, Tenzi: if you’re not playing it or giving it to your kids to play with, stocking up to have it on hand to give as an awesome birthday gift, you’re stuck with a bunch of whining kids on a hot / rainy / snowy / freezing day or scrambling around for a last minute birthday gift for the umpteenth birthday party of the year.

And don’t you deserve better???

Of course you do. You deserve a calm setting with a bunch of kids having fun while you enjoy a nice glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc / rich Pinot Noir /  warming Cabernet (based on your preference) and whatever else tickles your fancy.

Want to know more about Tenzi or other shockingly awesome toys for kids age 0-100? Follow me here on Twitter or check out our site’s gift gallery…always happy to share what I’ve found.



“Likes or comments are to a blogger what catnip is to ____”  (a: kangaroos b: aardvarks c: cats d: unicorns) 

Cristina Sierra_14






Cristina, Founder NeverMissGift