As the month goes on, we’ll share our ideas for clever gifts, movies to share with your family, stress-reducing holiday event guides and more.
‘Twas a time when making sure you were stocked with toy-appropriate batteries before the frenzied gift unwrapping began was one of the biggest challenges parents faced on Christmas morning. Sure, putting the tricycle together at 2 a.m. the night before while decoding poorly translated instructions ranks highly. So does remembering the right cables and battery chargers, which these days matter as much as the AAA and D cells.
But in recent years, all of that has paled in comparison to the annual Season’s Scrooging that manufacturers and retailers have introduced into our holiday gift-giving traditions.
Consider this Hallmark moment: Good girls and boys excitedly ripping away wrapping paper when . . . Kerplunk! The sudden silenced holiday spirit when toys won’t budge from daunting hard-plastic packaging! Things turn worse when dad comes to the rescue with a knife or pointed scissors, and the only thing opened is his finger.
Grappling with today’s packaging reminds me of my childhood ambition to free the tiny snowman from inside his snow globe. Adding to this twisted plot are other Grinchy devices, such as those diabolical plastic-coated metal wires strapping toys to the stiff cardboard backing, and those “zip ties” that are tinier versions of the ratchet-tightening plastic strips police use as handcuffs. Nice image.
One frustrated consumer whose log-on is “Stan-the-Man” posted recently on Amazon’s Customer Discussions pages that he purchased a remote control device that came in now standard, hard-plastic, clamshell packaging. “It took me 15 minutes to open [it],” he wrote. “What frustration and cut hands does one have to endure to open a simple item?” One “Help Forum Pro” online says she deducts stars when writing product reviews if clamshell packaging is used, adding that “Clamshell packaging is cruelty to humans.” The ensuing frustration has even earned a name: “wrap rage.”
A recent stroll through toy stores aisles revealed that one of this year’s hits, “123 Sesame Street Let’s Rock Elmo,” practically incarcerates the little Sesame Street character, tied firmly inside a “Try Me” clamshell. Edu Science’s “Armatron Robotic Arm” is tied down with zip ties, while Summit’s “Backyard Safari Bug Vacuum” is totally twist-wired. From Disney Pixar, there’s a “hermetically sealed” Ridemaster Z in a clamshell and a Toy Story U-Command Buzz Lightyear restricted with clear plastic cuffs, wired down feet and clamshell.
Parents of girls will attest that Barbies are among the worst offenders (“Barbie Fashionistas Ultimate Gift Set” gets plastic cuffs and wire tie downs beneath a clamshell). Parents of boys know too well what awaits inside packaging of RV vehicles that are known to have more than a dozen wires securing its axles and steering wheel.
Manufacturers and retailers will tell you this overkill is all necessary, primarily to thwart thieves from toynapping the product from inside its package, but also to protect toys from rough-and-tumble overseas shipping.
Still, consumers are fit to be tied! Some toy makers and retailers seem to be getting the message. Take a look at Hasbro’s “Bop It!,” secured only with seemingly frail string tied in what appears to be an easy-release knot, just as is Fisher-Price’s “Hero World Green Lantern” action figure. Maybe their relatively low price (under $15) makes them string eligible while Disney Pixar’s “Playskool Toy Story 3 Animated Talking Mr. Potato Head,” at $39.98, requires clamp down and clamshell.
Since November 2008, Amazon has offered Frustration-Free Packaging that features streamlined, recyclable, easy-to-open boxes free of excess materials, hard plastic clamshell cases, wire ties and plastic bindings. Trying to assist wrap-rage consumers while being eco-friendly, the program has faced its own critics and frustrations. But, to Amazon’s credit, it’s trying.
Wrap rage has actually given birth to a new cottage industry that’s creating products dedicated to relieving the packaging problem. So-called “Holiday Survival Kits,” from artsy-crafty do-it-yourself projects to gather-up gift suggestions can be found online, typically suggesting Rambo-grade scissors at the top of the list. Someone invented the “The Zibra Open It,” ($14.99) that claims to cut, snip, slice and unscrew practically any kind of package. There’s even a battery-operated tool called the CSB Commodities ZIPIT103 Battery-Operated Blister Pack/Clamshell Opener (on sale for $14). So if you’re thinking of stocking stuffers for mom or dad, these might be perfect (assuming none of these come in clamshell packaging).
Meanwhile, despite the challenge of overly secured packaging, it’s important to keep in mind the holiday spirit. And, remember the adage “It’s better to give than receive.” Now more than ever.
Some of the best gifts don’t come in boxes. A museum membership is one of those gifts. We asked Suzanne McCaffrey, Director of New Media at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, to tell us about all of the ways a museum membership can be used throughout the year. Added bonus? By purchasing one you’ll be supporting a nonprofit institution within your community.
Those seeking a special holiday gift should consider a museum membership, which offers a wide variety of year-round benefits in one-of-a-kind cultural venues. According to the American Association of Museums, there are at least 17,500 museums in the country, so chances are you’ll find a museum membership suitable for everyone on your list.
The benefits of a museum membership include not only unlimited admission for twelve months, but discounts on gift shop and cafe purchases, parking, guest admissions and ticketed events, and advance access to programs and ticket sales. The cost, usually ranging from $20 to $150, usually pays for itself in 2-3 visits, and many museums also offer free members-only events such as exhibit previews, behind-the-scenes tours and exclusive shopping nights.
Museums are also exploring new types of membership to appeal to different lifestyles and preferences. At Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, we offer a combination membership with the nearby National Aviary. Brooklyn Museum offers 1stfans, a socially-networked membership that provides members perks such as exclusive monthly meetups, exhibit tours with curators and an annual rooftop ice cream social. The Exploratorium in San Francisco lets you lock in a discounted rate for three years as a founding member. The Mattress Factory, a museum of installation art in Pittsburgh, offered the country’s first paperless membership program, using only electronic communication to reduce paper and postage costs and direct more funds towards supporting the art.
While the value of a museum membership is an attractive feature, ideally a museum also builds long-term relationships with members, “supporting a community of highly invested visitors,” according to Museum 2.0 blogger Nina Simon. At the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, staff look forward to seeing regular families and can personalize their visit by knowing their interests, skills and goals. “Skyler and her grandmother visit the Museum at least once a week, and know everyone on the floor by name,” says MakeShop Manager Adam Nye. “Skyler’s grandmother was thrilled when she had an opportunity to teach her granddaughter how to sew in MakeShop. I saw them make something new every visit—pillows, dolls, blankets, dresses. It’s also a pleasure to watch them explore areas that neither of them is familiar with, such as woodworking and electricity.”
Having members feel like a part of a museum family is a benefit for both families and staff,” says Jane Werner, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh Executive Director. “We have the pleasure of marking milestones with them, such as welcoming new siblings and seeing kids discover new talents and skills.” Taking part in regular rituals and traditions at a museum also adds to the fun of being a member. Families schedule their visits to take part in Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’ daily end-of-day parade that ushers out visitors on an “up” note. Others love the daily, 3:15 pm page turning of Audubon’s four-foot tall book, The Birds of America, at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. For five years, members at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh have made the Father-Daughter Dance on Valentine’s Day an annual tradition.
If you and your family travel, you’ll find value in the reciprocal privileges afforded by many museum memberships. The North American Reciprocal Museum Program, Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program and programs from the Association of Children’s Museums and Association of Science-Technology Centers run reciprocal admission programs that offer access to scores of museums across the country. Check with your local museums to see what reciprocal benefits their memberships offer.
So for a holiday gift that offers a year filled with culture, learning, value and play, try giving a museum membership or two. They provide endless possibilities for savings, enrichment and unique personal connections. “Being a member really takes the museum experience to an entirely new level,” says Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh MakeShop Manager Adam Nye. “It creates a bond, with both the place and the people, that is unique and lasting.”
Holidays are about getting kids not just things they want, but things that encourage kids to become what they want to be. A scientist, a fireman, an astronaut, an artist, or a scholar, toys and media can pave the way to a lifelong love of learning. And that’s a gift every child should receive.
To demonstrate this, we’ve brought in Chippy, our Ambassador to the Land of Learning New Things. Last time Chippy dreamed of being an Animal Ambassador who would travel to new places and meet all sorts of animals. This week, she’s a block builder who likes aliens. Naturally, she tells us, she wants to be a Space Architect when she grows up.
We hope that you and your children will be inspired to dream big by our chipmunk friend’s new spacebound journey!
Special thanks to Dre Towey for allowing us to use her song “Space Cowboy” from her album Sugar On Top! And if you’re raising your own Space Architect, be sure to check out our favorite toys for building and learning about space.
Produced & Directed by Ashley Mannetta & Patrick Kieley
Featuring products from:
We asked our friend, the esteemed Warren Buckleitner, Ph.D., Editor of Children’s Technology Review, what apps he would preload on an iOS (iPad, iPod, iPhone) device as gifts to kids. See his answers for different age groups below:
For Preschool Ages
For Elementary School Ages
For Middle School Ages
For High School Ages
Warren Buckleitner is the Editor of Children’s Technology Review, a contributor to the New York Times Gadgetwise blog, and other publications. A former preschool and elementary school teacher, he holds a BS in Elementary Education (cum laude), an MS in human development and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Michigan State University. Warren is the founder of the Dust or Magic Institute and the Mediatech Foundation. He has two teenage daughters and plays in a Dixieland jazz band.
If you think that 99 cents doesn’t buy much these days, take a look at what our friends at Tales2Go have put together. Tales2Go is an app that allows parents to subscribe to a huge collection of audiobooks that can be streamed from any iOS device. In the spirit of the holidays, they’ve put together a terrific collection of 20 seasonal stories performed by some of our favorite storytellers. That’s hours upon hours of family entertainment that needs not be wrapped, shipped, or returned for less than a dollar.
- A Christmas Carol (unabridged) – Charles Dickens/Frank Muller/Recorded Books
- A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens/Jim Weiss/Greathall Audio
- The Autobiography of Santa Claus – Jeff Guinn/John Mayer/Listen & Live Audio
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – Barbara Robinson/CJ Critt/Recorded Books
- The Brave Tin Soldier – Hans Christian Andersen/Kathy Kinney/Mrs. P
- The Christmas Snowman (Jigsaw Jones Mystery) – James Preller/Oliver Wyman/Scholastic
- Clifford’s Christmas – Norman Bridwell/Stephanie D’Abruzzo/Scholastic
- The Gift of the Magi – O. Henry/Jim Weiss/Greathall Productions
- The Great Sled Race – Bill Harley/Bill Harley/Round River Productions
- How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas – Jeff Guinn/Susan Denaker/Listen & Live Audio
- Max’s Christmas – Rosemary Wells/Jenny Agutter/Weston Woods
- Merry Christmas, Geronimo! – Geronimo Stilton/Bill Lobley/Scholastic
- The Night Before Christmas – Clement Clarke Moore/Peter Linz/Scholastic
- The Red Coat – Donald Davis/Donald Davis/August House
- The Red Scooter - Donald Davis/Donald Davis/August House
- The Snowman - Hans Christian Andersen/Kathy Kinney/Mrs. P
- The Story of Hanukkah – Adapted/Joel Ben Izzy
- Three Wise Cats - Harold Konstantelos, Terry Jenkins-Brady/Lyssa Browne/Listen & Live Audio
- The Tomten – Astrid Lindgren/Charles Cioffi/Weston Woods
- The Winter Cherries – Odds Bodkin/Odds Bodkin/Rivertree Productions