Homeschooling Multiple Ages with Help from SPARKBOX Toys

I received compensation for this review. I only share what I really think. All opinions are my own.

Homeschooling can be really fun. At other times, it can be really exhausting trying to come up with ways to entertain the kids while hopefully entertaining them at the same time. And buying entertaining, educational toys can suck your budget dry, not to mention clutter your house. A friend introduced me to SPARKBOX Toys, a monthly toy subscription box. They kindly sent me a free box to review. My first impression on opening the box was wow! The toys are pretty darn good quality! For my kids, they sent a variety of toys covering their age range (from 1 to 7). Here are my reasons for why you should consider a monthly subscription to SPARKBOX Toys:

They are educational.

These toys have been curated by a group of extremely varied experts. These ladies have experience ranging from education to health and wellness. They are purposely selected for your child’s developmental stage.

The toys are only there temporarily, so you do not have to worry about what to do with them when your kids lose interest.

Have you bought a toy that you thought your child would love, only to have it end up collecting dust or sitting at the bottom of the toy box? Yeah, me too. Whether your kids play with these or not, you just send them back with the prepaid shipping labels (can I mention that shipping is free?). They inspect, clean, and sanitize each toy before sending it out.

They can be saved for special occasions.

If you homeschool like I do, you can save these toys for when you need to distract your little one. Uninterrupted time to work with your student on math? Yes, please! Want to pee or poop alone? Here you go, kids! I’m not so sure that these would distract long enough for a shower though.

Something new every month.

Each time you get a box (either every four weeks or eight weeks, they have two plans, you can check those out along with pricing here), it’s like Christmas. I had to fend my kids off to get this picture of what we got in our box. They were very excited that I finally got a package with something for them to play with.

Able to cancel when you need to, keep the toys as long as you want.

If you (I mean, your kids) really end up loving a particular toy, you have the option to buy it at a discounted price from retail. Yay! If you happen to lose a piece (guilty! Puzzle pieces end up strewn all over the place around here), you might have to pay a couple of dollars to replace it. They do include a mesh bag to keep all the pieces together.

You can check out their FAQ page for any other questions you might have.


What is our experience with SPARKBOX Toys?

If you have the  money in your budget for a monthly or bi-monthly subscription, I really recommend it, based off the box I received. Since I have kids ranging in ages from one year old to eight years old, our box shows that. We received a rolly caterpillar, a wood puzzle, electronic book, and the Jammin’ Gym. The kids have enjoyed playing with all of them, though Little Man (my one year old) has really enjoyed chasing the caterpillar around the longest. The puzzle and the book don’t get much playtime. Big Brother (eight year old) enjoys going nuts with the Jammin’ Gym. I really should record him playing with it, it’s pretty funny and cute. They have been nice to hand to my two younger kids while I’m working with Big Brother on lessons. As you can see in the picture, I had to fight them off in order to get a picture. lol Little Man loves chasing the caterpillar. It’s very easy for him to push it down and get it going. Sister enjoys the puzzle. She’s my puzzle lover. Like I mentioned, Big Brother jams with the Jammin’ Gym. The Leap Frog book doesn’t get much love, though the kids really love regular books. If we have the money for this in our budget, I would love to get a subscription, even just for a couple of months, just to have some new toys to distract the kids with when I need to.

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Chuggington vs. Thomas Wooden Railway

A lot of little kids are enjoying the wooden trains.  Who can blame them?  Trains are just awesome.  Still, though, when parents are trying to figure out how to indulge their child’s train love, they often find themselves wondering some big questions.  Chuggington or Thomas?

While my friend Jo likes to tell me that I’m a big geek for the massive Train Track Tuesday layouts, I insist that I don’t actually play with the trains.  I just build them so that my kids can enjoy them.  Although I do sit down to encourage that my kids play and use some imagination….  Okay, fine, I play trains with my kids from time to time.

All Wooden Train Brands Play Nicely Together

It doesn’t matter if you’re buying some spare pieces from the bulk bin at the local toy store or if they are Chuggington, Thomas, Brio, Melissa & Doug, or whatever else.  They all interconnect.  That means you (or your children) can put together a more varied world.

Train Track Tuesday (Cloth Diaper Addicts)

Yes, It’s Expensive

Sure, you can frequently find smaller complete sets used for $100.  However, when you go to the local toy store to buy a wooden railway roundhouse, you’ll find that they are well over $75.  (And over $100 in Canada.)  If you bargain hunt, buy extra track pieces from the bulk bin instead of going name brand, and look for sales, it will only cost an arm instead of an arm and a leg.

All Brands Aren’t Equal

Sure, the track all plays nicely together, and some of the “off brands” do have awesome accessories.  Bridges and tunnels in particular can be awesome from the not so big name brands.  I love the Melissa & Doug Skyline Bridge.  But the “off brand” engines are a bit of a disappointment.  Don’t go cheap on the engines and cars, because they are just far less interesting.  The engines are often flat and boring; the cars are often flimsy.  Stick with Thomas or Chuggington engines and cars.

Which is better? Thomas or Chuggington?

Neither.  Both.  If you’re looking at the television series, I’ve got nothing.  We’ve never seen Chuggington shows and watch the odd Thomas on Netflix.  While I’m particularly fond of Sir Topham Hatt/The Fat Controller, I don’t notice the trains seeming to have distinct personalities in the newer episodes.  But with the toys?

Norton likes the Thomas trains best of all.  They are all older style engines, and let’s just face it, those are way cooler.  They’re cute and aesthetically pleasing.  Skarloey is his favorite.

However, for Eudora’s little hands, the chunkier, less detailed in shape Chuggington engines have a distinct advantage.  They’re the more modern, block shaped engine rather than the old fashioned “steamies,” so they’re easier for smaller hands to hold and maneuver.  That block shape means that there are no chimneys for Eudora to put in her mouth.  They are also just a smidgen taller, so there’s the occasional thing that won’t work together.  (For example, Chuggington engines don’t fit so well under the Thomas the Train Stop & Go Station… but the Thomas the Train Early Engineers engines don’t fit so well, either.  I’ve yet to run into any other clear cut cases where the two products don’t play well together.)

If you’re out to do a full-blown themed room, you’ll do better with Thomas.  There are more readily available companion merchandise pieces like beds, bedding, and even a little toddler sized living room suite.

What Do I Suggest?

Mix and match.  Mix and match as much as possible and remember your child’s tastes.  Sure, both Chuggington and Thomas have roundhouses.  But the Chuggington Double Decker Roundhouse with its nifty little elevating platform and options to separate may be more interesting to a young child than the single layered Deluxe Roundhouse or Tidmouth Sheds.  However, the Thomas And Friends Wooden Railway – Quarry Mine Tunnel and the Chuggington Wooden Railway Rocky Ridge Mine Tunnel are practically indistinguishable.  And the Thomas the Train Deluxe Over the Track Signal is way more awesome than the Chuggington equivalent.

I suggest that you go for the coolest option that’s within your budget.  Since they are frequently the exact same price, it’s a bit easier.

Do you have a wooden railway enthusiast in your home?  How do you choose between Thomas and Chuggington?

Train Track Tuesday

Train Track Tuesday (Cloth Diaper Addicts)

After some of the insanely huge builds I’ve made for my kids, I’m starting to favor smaller layouts.  At least that will mean that there’s room to walk in the room.

Elements used (Amazon affiliate links):
1.) Chuggington Wooden Railway Double-Decker Roundhouse
2.) Thomas And Friends Wooden Railway – Early Engineers Busy Day on Sodor Set
3.) Thomas Wooden Railway – Cranky The Crane
4.) Orbrium Toys Large Wooden Train Tunnel for Wooden Railway Fits Thomas Brio Chuggington Melissa Doug Imaginarium
5.) Chuggington Wooden Railway Rocky Ridge Mine Tunnel
6.) Melissa & Doug Skyline Suspension Bridge
7.) Chuggington Wooden Railway Koko & Hodge’s Clock Tower Set

Train Track Tuesday

Train Track Tuesday (Cloth Diaper Addicts)

Forgive the image quality.  This week’s train track was so large that I couldn’t actually fit it in one frame, even with my wide angle lens on my camera.  So I had the husband use the panorama option on his phone.

I’m pretty proud of this creation.  It took a few days… and Eudora didn’t destroy it beyond knocking over the occasional piece.  In the interest of making it more interesting and giving trains more places to go (since it doesn’t seem like a “Very Useful Engine” would just go gallivanting for no reason), some Fisher Price Little People was incorporated.  If you like what you see and want to add to your own collection, please order using my affiliate links below!

Chuggington Elements:
*Chuggington Wooden Railway Double-Decker Roundhouse
*Chuggington Wooden Railway Koko & Hodge’s Clock Tower Set
*Chuggington Wooden Railway Koko’s New Look
*Chuggington Wooden Railway Old Puffer Pete
*Chuggington Wooden Railway Safari Cars
*Chuggington Wooden Railway – Green Wilson Engine

Thomas the Train Elements:
*Thomas Wooden Railway Flynn & Water Tower Figure 8 Railroad Track Set 21 Piece
*Thomas And Friends Wooden Railway – Figure 8 Set Expansion Pack
*Thomas And Friends Wooden Railway – Early Engineers Busy Day on Sodor Set
*Thomas And Friends Wooden Railway – Early Engineers Round About Station
*Thomas And Friends Wooden Railway – Deluxe Over – The – Track Signal
*Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway – Echo Tunnel
*Thomas And Friends Wooden Railway – Harold The Helicopter
*Thomas Wooden Railway – Toby The Tram Engine
*Thomas Wooden Railway – Skarloey
*Thomas And Friends Wooden Railway – Wacky Track (2 pieces)

Fisher Price Little People Elements:
*Fisher-Price Little People Noah’s Ark
*Fisher-Price Little People Animal Sounds Farm
*Fisher-Price Little People Barnyard
*Fisher Price Little People Zoo

Other Elements:
*Melissa & Doug Zoo Animal Train Set
*Bigjigs Rail BJT135 Red Brick Tunnel
*New Wooden Train Cross X Track fits Thomas Wooden Railway and Brio Sets and Tracks
*Train Track Piece – CrossRoad Track – 100% Compatible with All Major Brands including Thomas Wooden Railway System – By Right Track Toys

Big Hugs Elmo Gets No Love

I’ve been waiting for a recall announcement to come out on the Big Hugs Elmo doll.  I kept expecting it to come out any moment now, but have been disappointed by Hasbro’s refusal to issue a recall.  Why?

Big Hugs Elmo Gets No Love (Cloth Diaper AddictsWell, it turns out that there’s more to the furry little monster than spindly arms and complaints of being hugged too tight.  There have been reports of batteries melting in the little guy.  As soon as I heard about it on Facebook (it happened legit to a friend of a friend, not an “I’m hearing this thing that happened to a friend of a friend’s mom’s aunt’s cousin’s wife’s sister-in-law’s niece” thing), I pulled the batteries out of mine and called Wal-Mart.  Yes, we could return it, no problem… and they’d already had two returned that day for the same reason in the Prince George store. [Read more…]

Train Track Tuesday

Train Track Tuesday (Cloth Diaper Addicts)

This week’s train track was fun to build!  Norton and Eudora both had a lot of fun playing with it.

Elements used include: Chuggington Wooden Railway Double-Decker Roundhouse, Chuggington Wooden Railway Koko & Hodge’s Clock Tower Set, Imaginarium Wooden Switching and Crossing Track Pack, Thomas And Friends Wooden Railway – Water Tower Figure 8 Set

Train Track Tuesday #4

Train Track Tuesday #4 (Motherhood Looms)

At this point, I’m not 100% sure who the massive train track layouts are for.  Sure, Norton enjoys playing with the wooden train layouts, But I know that I really do love building them!

This week’s build spans about eight feet in one direct and about five feet in the other.  I’m not sure how many actual linear feet of wooden train track is being used, but it’s definitely a lot!  For “packs” you’ll see the Chuggington Double Decker Roundhouse (split in two), the Chuggington Figure 8 Clock Tower set, Thomas and Friends Water Tower Figure 8 Set, two expansion packs, Thomas and Friends Echo Tunnel (discontinued), and an unknown no name tunnel and aquaduct bridge.

Have you ever experimented with wooden trains?  What was your favorite element of the build?