“Is it wrong that I put my kids in a giant hamster wheel?” poses Melissa Sinni.
The 65-inch padded ball allows kids to sit inside it while adults roll the ball across lawns and down gentle hills. It lights up, too—and there are 12 inches of protective padding between the kids and the ground. “I may not have bought this if times were normal,” Sinni says. “But they aren’t.”
Right now, almost anything that’s fun and safe is getting the parental nod of approval. That’s especially true for moms like Sinni, who has four kids ages 3-7. She also owns the Blue Beret in Wayne. Her shop has always specialized in children’s clothes and the occasional toy. Now, the Blue Beret is stocking an array of items to keep kids occupied—inflatable rainbows with sprinklers, volleyball nets, the aforementioned hamster wheel, and more. “What I’m buying for the store is what I need for my own kids,” she says. “I need to keep this bunch entertained.”
Extreme sports also keep families entertained—and adults, too. Slackers makes Ninjalines, ziplines and slacklines that can be suspended between two sturdy trees. Parents can hang a variety of bars, rings and knots from the lines, forming obstacle courses and American Ninja-like challenges. The lines can be easily customized and changed with equipment that comes in kits.
The Denver-based company sold out in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but more are on the way to Monkey Fish Toys in West Chester and Chester Springs. “They’ve been popular for a long time,” says Monkey Fish co-owner K.C. Olafsson. “But I think they’ll be one of the hottest items of the summer.”
Olafsson is one of many entrepreneurs around the region offering games, toys and sports equipment to occupy and educate kids during long summer days. She appreciates Slackers’ mix of safety and fearlessness. “It’s climbing trees, playing on ropes and doing timeless activities in a more strenuous way,” she says.
Confinement hasn’t squashed curiosity in youngsters hungry for intellectual stimulation. “Kids are learning all the time—from everything,” says Carrie Cohs, owner of pucciManuli in Ardmore. “The backyard is such a great place for exploration. Trees, grass and dirt? Sounds like fun to me.”
A backyard explorer kit (with bug kit and magnifying glass) is one of pucciManuli’s hot items for summer. The shop also has nature journals, outdoor science experiments and guided activity books. “The books direct kids to seek out various things in the yard and interact with them in educational ways,” Cohs says. “Kids love imagination-based items.”
Science-y fun is also en vogue at Kandy Kids in Swarthmore, where bug cages, magnifying glasses, periscopes, binoculars and compasses can be had for various outdoor adventures. Kandy Kids stocks products from Hape, the world’s largest producer of wooden toys—with many made of bamboo. “That makes them durable and eco-friendly, two things you want in products for kids,” says shop owner Susan Deininger.
Gardening tools and kits are popular at Mapes, the legendary 5&10 emporiums in Narberth and Ardmore. “We have kid-sized gardening tools right next to what adults use,” says Shelly Nolley, manager of the Mapes in Ardmore. “Gloves, scoopers, cultivators and trowels. You name it—kids love digging with it.”
Tents, and inflatable slip-and-slides, doughnuts and other floatable items are already selling at Mapes. “It seems like kids can’t wait to get in the pool, just for a change of scenery,” she says.
Mapes stocks old-fashioned favorites like corn hole, badminton and horseshoes. Kandy Kids, meanwhile, is doing a brisk business in badminton sets, Frisbees, junk ball and ring tosses. If kids do the math on speed, distance and mass, Stomp Rockets are considered STEAM educational tools. And nothing beats Felix iQ Gliders, which are available at pucciManuli. “Easy to assemble and almost indestructible, it’s a throw glider,” says Cohs. “And it goes really, really far. Dads love them as much as kids.”
Street-friendly hockey sticks and pucks are selling at Mapes. For Hog Wild Birdie Golf, balls are attached to badminton-style shuttlecocks, which soar through the air when hit with golf clubs. “They fly really far,” says Olafsson, whose Monkey Fish Toys stocks the game. “Of course, you have to retrieve them.”
Monkey Fish also has pop-up tennis nets, football and lacrosse ball launchers, glow-in-the-dark mini golf, and Tangle NightBalls for football, basketball and soccer. “The longer you can stay outside, the better,” she says.