Balance your time and energy during the holiday season or anytime with plenty of playtime. Find a Frisbee and locate a place to toss it with some friends; or find a kite and go fly it. One of my favorite toys made in the Bay Area is a Tangle Toy that always makes anyone of any age smile as they endlessly twist and turn it. Go to www.tangletoys.com to learn more.
You don’t have to wait for the “Kite Festival” on the Marina to launch your kite upwards, or wait for a Tangle Toy to twist, or until the gym opens to create playtime. Places for play are all around.
Wondering where to find fun places for play? There are many varied outdoor recreational places in Berkeley such as the amazing Adventure Playground at the Marina, Tilden Park, and many others places for in and outdoor play.
Indoors, for preschoolers, there are many places that are free, or charge nominal amounts for play, but are perfect especially for little ones who are discovering the joy of playing in small groups. Indoor places are perfect for inclement weather, for birthday parties, and when everyone needs a change of pace.
Places that are indoors for preschoolers include the innovative Habitot, 2065 Kittredge St. (downstairs below Mel’s Restaurant, between Harold Way & Shattuck Ave.), Berkeley. Habitot offers popular water play plus many different varied play environments and it’s perfect for birthday parties. The Gift Shop offers a wide variety of preschool products. Hours: Monday-Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., and Friday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Another open-ended play space is Studio Grow, 1235 10th St. (between Harrison St. & Gilman St.), Berkeley. Plenty of space for play activities and birthday parties.
We are fortunate to have places many communities do not have. Yes, it would be wonderful if there were even more places, but with “mini parks,” recreational places, the Y, and Community Centers we have a good variety of play spaces.
What about toys and other playthings? Where in Berkeley do you find the best that children can enjoy, and have as play “tools” for a long time?
Considering the diverse need for toys of all kinds, and for all ages, there are plenty of choices available in the large toy marketplace, but this holiday season consider buying and shopping locally.
Many excellent toy companies are designing products not only in Berkeley, but throughout the Bay Area. The realistic high quality Folkmanis puppets were first sold on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley many years ago to benefit a local school. Now their son is grown and working in the company. Leap Frog, now a large company, started with one product not long ago and just next door in Emeryville. Peaceable Kingdom, located in Berkeley, offers diverse cooperative games and many other colorful products. There are other great products created locally.
Dr. Toy’s Guide for Holiday Gifts Made by Bay Area Companies
- Blue Orange Games
Your whole family will find Fastrack game (like air-hockey/archery) a lot of fun through the year. This disc-flinging exciting game is played on a wooden tray. The moves are easy. Using one hand, pull the elastic band to launch discs through the small opening. Each side starts with 5 wooden disks. Be the first to clear all 10 disks to opponent’s side. Plenty of action plus extra benefits of strengthening finger dexterity, and eye-hand coordination. The packaging is recycled and recyclable cardboard. Find Blue Orange Games at Games of Berkeley and Rockridge Kids. For more information visit www.blueorangegames.com
- Diggin Active
This unique Wobble Deck Extreme is an electronic balance board that features four fun games that challenge a child’s mind, body and responses. Games include: Copy Wobble, Memory Wobble, Wobbly Statues, and Musical Wobble. Base detaches to become a portable handheld game. These games help children’s cognitive skills plus they can explore music composition, improve physical coordination, and reaction time. The company, based in the East Bay, offers other quality portable play sets, planes, cars, and ball games like Wheelee, Dodge Ball, and others directly on line. For more information visit www.digginactive.com
These delightful child-sized Little Puppets have plenty of attention to detail. A good price makes them highly collectible, plus great stocking stuffers. These playful friends with movable mouth and forelegs are made by our world famous puppet maker Judy Folkmanis. Based in the East Bay, she started making and selling the puppets on Telegraph Avenue to support her son’s preschool over 35 years ago. He now works with the company. Puppets are perfect playmates to encourage singing, talking and laughing. A puppet is a fun pet for all ages. It’s especially good when traveling as it’s safe, soft, easy to pack, and played with anywhere. Add a puppet when reading to child, put on a puppet show, or share a secret anytime. Find Folkmanis at The Ark Toys and Crafts, Mr. Mopps, Rockridge Kids and Sweet Dreams. For more information visit www.folkmanis.com
- Green Toys
Unique stackable sandwich shop stimulates kids to “cook up” meal-time scenarios with ultra-safe play food that looks good enough to eat. Plus it helps kids develop fine motor and communication skills. Think fantasy play with career chef training as kids play chef, and server. Sandwich Shop comes with everything needed for two complete, three-inch-square sandwiches, including two bread slices, bun top and bottom, burger patty, fillet, cheese slices, produce toppings, plus Sandwich Shop order forms. It is made from food-safe, 100% recycled milk containers and contains no BPA, PVC, phthalates, or external coatings, and is dishwasher safe. The box is made of 100% recyclable corrugated material and is printed with soy ink. Find Green Toys at Whole Foods, The Ark Toys & Crafts, and Five Little Monkeys. For more information visit www.Greentoys.com
- Hero Arts Rubber Stamps
Animal critters left their mark on this durable and portable Ink ’n Stamp tub. Contains 18 woodblock stamps and one ink pad for plenty of creativity. Stampers of all ages are wild to play with this new collection of critters. All Hero Arts woodblock stamps are made in the USA on sustainably-harvested woodblocks. Jackie Leventhal, founder of Hero Arts, has come a long way from the cottage where she started her business 35 years ago. As an art teacher, she made stamps in her home with an old, borrowed Vulcanizer. Soon her creations (butterflies, dancing frog, and sun) were in great demand. Hero Arts is a vital force in the growing green stamp movement. Visit www.heroarts.com to order stamp kits directly.
Coin Blasters, a collection of ten competitive table-top target games in a colorful book, offers create-it-yourself fun and skills arcade. Sturdy plastic chutes custom molded to hold a coin steady and upright on its edge offer children fun with extra benefits of eye-hand coordination and finger dexterity. Use simple flick of a finger, and a bit of practice. Anyone can send coin zooming with surprising speed and accuracy at target. Take slap shots at a hockey goalie, shoot baskets at Hot Shot Blaster Hoop, knock teeth out of a monster’s mouth, and more. Everything needed for hours of fun is right inside the book. Includes 2 coin blasters, ramp, and punch-out parts. Klutz found at The Ark Toys & Crafts, Mr. Mopps and Games of Berkeley. For more information visit www.klutz.com
LeapPad2 is a personalized learning tablet featuring built-in front and back camera, video recorder, and microphone all in a durable kid friendly case. Offers learning, entertainment, and games that adjust to each child’s level. Includes 4GB of memory, a faster processor, long lasting battery, plus a recharger pack available separately. Bonus includes extensive free content with music player and five learning songs, and Apps like Cartoon Director Creativity, Art Studio, and Pet Pad Writing. Learn through play as kids touch the screen to bring characters and words to life. Tap, draw, and write with stylus, or turn, twist, and shake tablet for exciting motion-based play. Visit www.leapfrog.com to order Leap Frog products.
Children are naturally curious about the world around them. With Tag Human Body Discovery Pack they learn how the human body works. With two-sided interactive chart and game board they discover the human body and understand characteristics of living things. They learn about body’s systems, about food science, nutrition, and diet, and it helps them make smarter choices. Children learn how diseases are caused and can be prevented. Included is jumbo two-sided chart and game board, interactive growth chart, three interactive sticker sheets, set of glow-in-the dark bone stickers, plus 300+ interactive responses, and 40+ learning activities. Visit www.leapfrog.com to order Leap Frog products.
- Moosetache Games
Hike is the fun, new user friendly card game where nature springs surprises and players battle for survival. It encourages learning and teaches about the great outdoors and rules of nature. Players receive 7 cards and play one suited card or specialty card per turn. Specialty cards create twists and turns in the game. “Play” bar at the bottom of suited cards shows players which 3 suits can be played next. Players are knocked out when they can’t play a card. When that happens leftover cards result in points for winning hand. Players score points by outlasting other players and having fewest leftover cards. Score points by capturing “The Worm” with a “Bird” or planting a “Tree” in “Spring.” Find at Games of Berkeley. For more information visit www.moosetachegames.com
Animal Planet Wildlands whisks players into a stunning 3D Savannah where they collect, trade, interact with, and learn about 50 exotic animals such as lions, jaguars,and elephants. These collectible trading cards “magically” interact with apps when tapped on the screen of an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Animal Planet Wildlands, is based on the popular TV property. Once “tapped” into the game, players can run with the animal through environment, take part in races and quests, collect in-game puzzle pieces, and learn about the predator-prey food chain. Players can also view Animal Planet™ videos and learn about an animal’s conservation status, predators and prey, natural behaviors, and other fun, educational facts. Animal Planet Wildlands is available from App Store on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. For more information visit www.nukotoys.com
- Peaceable Kingdom
You will stimulate cooperation with this color-coded skill building matching game. Everyone who plays can help owls fly back to their nest before the sun comes up. The extra benefits include learning while playing, improvement in eye-hand coordination, and helping children with their concentration and social skills. Play a color card and fly. Draw a sun card and you’re one step closer to daylight. Help all the owls get home. This game includes: 1 game board, 6 owl tokens, 1 sun token, 14 sun cards, and 36 color cards. Find Peaceable Kingdom, our local toy company, at Games of Berkeley, The Ark Toys & Crafts, and Mr. Mopps. For more information visit www.peaceablekingdom
- Colorforms/University Games
The Original Colorforms® Set is a reproduction of the inspiring, creative product that launched in 1951. The set includes 350 brightly colored Colorforms pieces for all ages to enjoy in an elegant, spiral-bound book with an intriguing design booklet. Arrange Colorforms’ simple versatile shapes, in endless, fascinating combinations from making a single figure to creating a series of design elements. Colorforms Stick-Ons™ easily attach to any glossy surface, or to one another, by applying slight pressure across the surface of each piece. This set has been recognized by The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Colorforms/University Games are found at The Ark Toys & Crafts, Mr. Mopps, and Games of Berkeley. For more information visit www.colorforms.com
Dr. Toy’s Guide to Toy Stores Located in and near Berkeley
Fortunately, there are many excellent, local and accessible toy stores available throughout the East Bay with a great variety of excellent locally made products. A few of these include innovative stores offer recycled or consignment products at a reduced cost.
The first and most established retailer is the venerable North Berkeley toy store Mr. Mopps is a Berkeley institution. Here you will find the wonderfully realistic Folkmanis hand puppets from birds to animals and a dragon or two.
The former owner for 40 years, Eugene Yamashita, was pleased to turn over the legacy to new owners Devin McDonald and Jenny Stevenson, who are dedicated to maintaining the same quality and diversity the store has been famous for all these years. The new owners are warm and friendly and want to provide playthings that match your child’s age and interests. Devin grew up near the store. Now he is providing the same level of quality and joy he experienced as a child. They have every intention to “maintain the spirit and range of products at all prices for all ages.” That means any adult who missed out on having a doll, puzzle, games or a construction set can still be satisfied and enjoy the toy they purchase for themselves. It is located at 1405 Martin Luther King Jr. Way (between Rose St. & Vine St.), Berkeley. It is open Tuesday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
You will find the amazing center for games, Games of Berkeley, in Downtown Berkeley. The store offers a wide range of games of all kinds and for all interests, plus it offers, almost every day, special events on board games, such as University Games, Peaceable Kingdom and Blue Orange Games. The owner Mike Sloan and his knowledgeable staff maintain a staggering array of games in all prices and themes. They host a variety of hands on activities to meet many interests. It is located at 2151 Shattuck Avenue. It is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday, 11a.m.-7 p.m.
We move on to Elmwood to Sweet Dreams. This store, which started in 1971, offers games, puppets, kites, books and toys. The store offers colorful window displays, and an interesting array of products packed into the store from floor to ceiling. The store offers personal service, gift wrapping, and will provide the time to assist you with your selections. You will find Klutz books, Alex creative sets, construction toys like LEGO, wooden toys, and plenty of dolls and plush animals. Also you will find a Skuut first pedal free bike that depends on balance, yo-yos and other traditional toys, and science and craft kits of all kinds. Sweet Dreams is located at 2921 College Ave. (between Ashby Ave. & Russell St.). It is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Moving down University to the diversity of 4th Street, you will find a charming European style toy store owned now by Gerald Johnson, who purchased it from founder Pam Byars. The Ark Toys & Crafts is an excellent independent toy store for the discerning buyer. At this store you will find many whimsical toys and hand crafted toys that are made in Europe that will be treasured toys and soon become family heirlooms. The toys are educational, entertaining, and inspiring with various craft and science kits.
This is a boutique toy store that adults can appreciate. The toys are meant to entertain and inspire children of all ages: puzzles, ice cream makers, craft kits, plus a loft full of excellent children’s books, plenty of those wonderful plush Folkmanis puppets, and activity toys like Hula Hoops, Frisbees, and balls, plus you will find baby gifts to dreamy doll houses, paper dolls, rockets, medieval figurines, and marbles. Plenty of small gifts are available for birthday parties and to give to the child inside of you, and to other playful friends or family. Look up to see a full range of wooden arks, and other fanciful products that fill the ceiling and walls on both sides of the store. The windows are decorated very beautifully. They offer a frequent buyer card to encourage you to return and continue shopping. The Ark Toys & Crafts is at 1812 4th St. (between Hearst Ave. & Virginia St.). It is open Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Just over the border in Albany on Solano, visit the unique Toy Go Round. Instead of throwing away your old toys, recycle them. The store handles a system of consigning toys and then you will receive money to buy new ones. Recycle your toys and receive 50% of the selling price. They ask that you clean and sort your toys and bring them in. What you bring in is recorded and added to your account. It is located at 1361 Solano Ave. It is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Consignment hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-noon.
Open since 2001, also located in Albany, Five Little Monkeys is the only Green Certified toy store in the Bay Area. This delightful store provides a unique selection of quality toys like Green Toys and Peaceable Kingdom in a fun and friendly environment. They give every customer exceptional customer service. They encourage children to explore toys first hand. The owner, Stephanie Sala, picks items to ensure the products are not only durable, but educational, and encourage imagination. The staff will help you find the perfect gift and they offer complimentary gift wrapping. The store is open earlier on Saturday mornings to accommodate last minute birthday party shopping. Located at 1224 Solano Ave., Albany, its hours are Sunday–Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
Another excellent choice is The Discovery Corner Toy and Bookshop located at the always fun and educational place to visit, Lawrence Hall of Science. This gift shop specializes in nature, science and learning products for children, but there are also plenty of excellent, topical books, kits and products that will appeal to scientists of all ages. Members receive a 10% discount on all purchases. On line shopping and gift wrapping is also available. The Discovery Corner inside the lobby of the Lawrence Hall of Science is located at the top of a scenic drive at 1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley. It is open Monday–Sunday 10 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Child’s Play is another great place to find a range of recycled toys. The store’s website describes specifics about selling or consignment. Lillian and Dawn take gently used products for sale or on consignment. There is customer parking in the back. When items are purchased for resale they are given an “estimated sales price.” If products are taken on consignment payment occurs after sale. The seller is paid 40% of estimate in cash or 50% in store credit. Consignor is paid 50% in cash or 60% in store credit on all merchandise. Buying days and times: Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Call ahead (510) 653-3989 to make sure buyer is in. Toys must have all of their pieces, be clean, and in good working condition. They accept toys and books year round. The consignment period is 90 days. All items not sold are automatically donated after the consignment period ends. All items are automatically reduced 30-50% the last month of the consignment period. More details can be found at www.ghosthound.net. Child’s Play is located at 5858 College Avenue in Oakland (corner of Chabot and College).
Rockridge Kids, located at 5511 College Ave., in the Rockridge district in Oakland, features kid’s equipment, toys and clothes. The store carries a wide selection of toys including HABA, Plan Toys, puppets, games and the organic Apple Park products. They will also special order desired products and offer a Gift Registry. There is a table set with blocks and other items for kids to play with. They provide good advice, local seminars, and classes through Tulip Grove, and help with installing car seats. Its hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Baby World, a treasured store in Oakland since 1983, is located just 4 blocks north of the Macarthur BART station at 4400 Telegraph Avenue (44th Street). There are two other Bay Area locations in San Bruno and San Rafael. The owner, Cristina Cabello, provides flexible hours and is open Monday- Saturday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. There is free street parking on 44th St. The store specializes in locally made clothing, toys and furniture and emphasizes eco-friendly products. The well trained staff is knowledgeable about all items which they also will deliver. They offer gift registry online, free gift wrap, will ship via UPS, and have option for in-store pick up when you order online, plus they special order and also provide a frequent buyer program. The store offers the largest selection of strollers and car seats which are installed at no additional cost. Among the companies included are HABA, Plan Toy, Green Toys, Eeboo, Manhattan Toy Company, Lamaze, Brio, Schylling, Peaceable Kingdom, Uncle Goose, Tiny Love, Sassy and Mary Meyer, and others.
There are many choices for all of the children (and playful adults) in your life so regardless of where you shop or what you buy, when you visit these stores you and others on your list will enjoy your gifts for a long time. Please tell the stores that “Dr. Toy sent you” and ask them to help you to find exactly the right plaything.
This handy checklist will help when you evaluate a toy for its value. These are questions to ask about the potential of any product. These questions are also available in my book, Smart Play/Smart Toys, along with specific guidance on play and toys from baby to older children, and for children with special needs plus many ideas about things to make and do.
- Age Grading
The right products can expand the child’s imagination in art, crafts, hobbies, language, reading, music, movement, and drama.
- Personal Values
Is it affordable? Does the price match the value received?
- Will the toy challenge the physical and mental abilities of a child in the specified age range?
- Does it play well?
- How long does it hold the child’s interest?
- What about the packaging? Is it easy to read? Is it unique? Does the toy or the package have anything new and special to offer? Does the packaging tell the truth? Does it sell the toy? Are the directions clearly written? Are they well-illustrated?
- Are the materials well-made and long lasting?
- Is the toy made of good materials?
- Does it meet safety standards?
- Is the price reasonable?
- Is the name appropriate?
- Does the name sell the toy?
Most of all, remember “Let’s Play!”
Summary of Local Toy Stores and Play Spaces
- Ark Toys & Crafts, The
1812 4th Street, Berkeley, CA 94710
- Baby World
4400 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA 94609
- Child’s Play
5858 College Avenue, Oakland, CA 94618
- Discovery Corner Toy & Bookshop
Lawrence Hall of Science, UC,
1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley, CA 94720-5132
- Five Little Monkeys
1224 Solano Avenue, Albany, CA 94706
- Games of Berkeley
2151 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704
- Habitot Children’s Museum
2065 Kittredge Street, Berkeley, CA 94704
- Mr. Mopp’s Children’s Books & Toys
1405 M.L. King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94709
- Rockridge Kids Store
5511 College Avenue, Oakland, CA 94618
- Studio Grow
1235 10th Street, Berkeley, CA 94710
- Sweet Dreams Toy Store
2921 College Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705
- Toy Go Round
1361 Solano Avenue, Albany, CA 94706
Send any updates to Dr. Toy c/o of the Berkeley Daily Planet.