Author Archives: kazoodles

Fidgets: They’re not just for kids

Nearly every day parents come in looking for fidget toys for their children. Teachers or therapists have recommended they find something to occupy the child’s hands so the child’s brain can focus in school.

It turns out children aren’t the only ones to benefit from having fidgets to play with. Far from idle diversion, fiddling with desk gadgets can have an impact on cognitive functioning, improving focus or sparking fresh thinking or faster learning on the job, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

WhatzitThe story describes research conducted by a doctoral student at NYU’s engineering school. When people feel restless or confined by computer work, they may get physical stimulation and stress release from playing with a small sandbox, stretching and bending a Slinky, clicking a pen, or shaping and rolling putty.

That, in fact, is how Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty got started. In 1998, designing websites for a living, Aaron convinced his colleagues to chip in and buy 100 pounds of bouncing putty. “Squeezing, stretching, and shaping…they didn’t even realize it was there! As it melted their stress away, their creative potential was unleashed!” he says on his website. People began stopping by his desk to buy more putty, he began adding colors, and the rest is history.

PoshballParticipants in the NYU study mention benefits they get from squeezing, stroking, flipping, twirling, stretching, clicking or fiddling with everyday objects.

Eni Puzzles, chew toys, Wikki Stix, Wacky Tracks, Whatz’it, Sands Alive, squeeze toys, Pop Toobs, Posh Balls and rubber band balls are some of the many fidgety toys that kids and adults alike find calming.Tangles

The NYU study is one of many in the evolving field of research called “embodied cognition,” or how physical movement and the environment may shape cognitive functioning. “Some studies show fidgeting may also be a coping mechanism for restless energy, stimulating the brain enough so a person can focus on mundane tasks,” the WSJ article said.


Best of Clark County? Right Here on East Mill Plain

We were grateful and excited to be named Best of Clark County by readers of The Columbian. We were doubly excited to see that eight BOCC awards and a runner-up are right here in our shopping center, Columbia Square. We’d like you to meet our outstanding neighbors. See if you can spot the phrase that pops up in every one of these.


Larson’s Bakery: Best Bakery/Desserts (four-time winner)

Fresh banana cake. If you haven’t tasted it, you’ve missed one of Vancouver’s culinary treasures. Larson’s Bakery has been making fresh banana cake and much, much more at this location for 27 years after moving up from the Bay Area. The small, family-owned business, led by Sue Wilson, gets super busy at Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter as folks line up for their cakes, pies, rolls and other goodies.

Larson’s also features a deli with sandwiches, soups and salads. For dessert? How do you choose?

Spanky’s: Best Consignment Shop (six-time winner), Best Clothing Values (four-time winner)

Rachel Phillips bought Spanky’s in 2009, carrying on the tradition of a good selection of fashionable, like-new clothing for kids, women and men. “It’s one stop for the whole family,” she said. “It’s still family-owned, so we provide that special touch.”

Spanky’s started in 1981, and one of the original three owners, Sandy Shepherd, is still general manager. Deanna Cook has worked there more than 25 years and Rhonda Thamert more than 18, so customers see familiar faces. They accept clothing either new within the last two years or very classic. “The cuteness factor goes a long way,” Phillips said. “It has to be in season, too.” The store also consigns home decor.

Mar’s Inn: Best Chinese (first-time winner)

Cantonese and Sichuan dishes from the south of China are the specialty at Mar’s Inn. Instead of Americanizing, “We try to translate what we really take from China,” explained Daisy Huang, who grew up in southern China. Cantonese focuses on stir fry, stews and steam, while Sichuan is a lot more spicy, she said.

The family-owned restaurant started in 1980 on Hawthorne in Portland, said Edward Mar, whose family has had as many as five restaurants but now owns one in Portland and the Vancouver Mar’s. Since opening here in 2008, it’s been a popular place for dining in or taking out.

Pho Green Papaya: Best Pho (first-time winner)

For a decade, Pho Green Papaya has been serving up Vietnamese comfort food. “Since it rains so often here, it’s nice to have a warm bowl of soup,” said Ann Chu, whose mother was born in Vietnam.

It’s mostly word-of-mouth that brings crowds of people to the family-owned restaurant. Besides pho — noodle soup laden with meat and vegetables that’s a street food in Vietnam — Pho Green Papaya serves vermicelli and noodle dishes, shredded salad, stir fries and a few other soups.

Chuck’s Produce: Best Grocery Store, Best Specialty Foods (two-time winner)

When Chuck’s Produce opened on 10/10/2010, grocery shopping in Vancouver changed. This local, independent, family-owned grocery strives to have the best prices in its huge produce department, with a unique selection of fruits and vegetables. If you don’t know what something is, ask a produce person to open it and give you a taste, said manager Larry Maresh.

But that’s only one part of the store. Local, healthy and organic are key words whether you’re shopping the grocery department, grabbing lunch at the from-scratch deli, satisfying your sweet tooth at the artisan bakery, seeking health and beauty products, or looking for hormone- and antibiotic-free meats. A gift shop is tucked in one corner, the Potting Shed fills with plants each spring, and free classes are offered regularly to help customers with healthful eating. Maresh’s team of 120 employees stands ready to serve.

Kazoodles: Best Hobby/Toy Store (three-time winner)

Providing the best classic and kid-powered toys since 2006, Kazoodles has been in this center for four years. The focus of this family-owned business is on getting kids into creative, active, imaginative, brain-boosting play. Kazoodles offers play tables where children can get their hands on many of the toys, help for bewildered grandparents, ideas for families of children with special needs, low-cost activities such as Storytime and Crafternoon, and free giftwrap.

Owners Bob and Mary Sisson have been active with the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, putting them on the front lines with issues such as toy safety, the shop local movement, and choosing the best toys for child development and fun.

Craft Warehouse: Runner Up, Best Hobby/Toy Store

Headquartered in Camas, this small chain of eight craft stores has been at Columbia Square since 1997. “We’re family-owned, not that huge box store,” said Carol Shand, assistant manager. “When we do a category, we do it well.” She, the store manager, and half a dozen others have been at this Craft Warehouse since it opened.

“The staff is very knowledgeable,” she said. The store commits to having more staff so they’re available to help customers. Scrapbooking, jewelry making, quilting, framing, floral and home decor are some of the areas that spark customers’ creativity.


Now, about that phrase. Did you catch it? It’s “family-owned.” Every one of these businesses is owned by a family that cares deeply about our community and our customers. So next time you’re in the vicinity of 134th-136th and Mill Plain, stop by and be part of the family!




Magic of a Toy Store: It Comes From the Kids

We will never forget the first time a mom told us, “He woke up today saying, ‘I want to go to Kazoodles!’” That’s not just music to a shopkeeper’s ears, it’s a full symphony.

Then there was the boy who, with a full store of toys to explore, got in a cardboard box we’d just emptied and had all kinds of imaginary fun.

And Jacob, age 4, who kept bringing me games and asking, “Miss Mary, how do you play this?” I’d have to admit I didn’t know. Finally I told him, “Jacob, my kids are all grown and my husband works nights, so when I get home from work there’s no one to play with.” Jacob looked me in the eye and said, “Miss Mary, you need to make some friends!”

Mr. Duane, who recently retired, loved to bring his dog, Sally, to the store. (Sally’s a Folkmanis puppet, but don’t tell her that.) One day Sally and a little girl were having a nice chat at a play table. After awhile there was a puddle on the floor. The girl’s mom scolded her for having an accident. “I didn’t do it,” the girl insisted. “Sally did it!” In the end, we learned that another child had spilled a drink.

Sally likes to talk with kids who come to Kazoodles.

Sally likes to talk with kids who come to Kazoodles.

Sally played a role in an experience that still brings tears to our eyes. Sally, as usual, was chatting with 3-year-old Amber when suddenly Amber started screaming, “Puppy! Puppy!” Mr. Duane thought he’d scared her, especially when her parents came running, tears streaming down. “Mommy! Puppy!” Amber said over again. Mr. Duane had tears in his eyes, too, when he learned Amber has autism and those were the first words she’d ever said in her life. Even Sally was crying, he said.

The Doorbell House from Melissa & Doug played a role with another 3-year-old who had never spoken, his mom relayed. He loved that toy so much, he’d wake up in the morning talking about it.

It’s been gratifying to help kids with special needs find toys that make therapy fun or help them focus in the classroom. We love being a part of the lives of all Kazoodles kids, from searching out what they need for a class project to fulfilling those quirky interests kids can have.

Like the time a dad came in and said, “All my daughter wants for her birthday is a stuffed turkey.” It’s so much fun to say, “Yes, we have that!”

Every day is endlessly entertaining at Kazoodles as we eavesdrop on kids while they play. Thank you for sharing your greatest treasures, your children, with us. We hope we bring them as many wonderful, magical memories as they bring us.

Fun with arts and crafts


With thanks to the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association

Deep in the recesses of your memory, you can still feel it. The way your hand slipped across that special smooth paper when you finger painted. The oozy sensation of play dough squishing between your fingers. The satisfying feeling of bringing a handmade construction-paper greeting card to life with large amounts of glue and glitter, even if it did take forever to dry.

Whether our medium was paint, clay, paper plus glue, or — shall we say — eclectic, most of us remember the fun and creative hours spent elbow deep in craft projects as children.

When winter weather keeps kids cooped up indoors, it’s a great time for moms and dads to spread newspaper across the kitchen table and round up some paint, glue, glitter, scissors, paper of various sorts, clay, and more.

Crafts are more than just fun. Kids are learning how to use their hands, how to express themselves, and how to figure things out when they do craft projects. Young children are also building pre-literacy skills because art helps them grasp the idea that symbols can stand for something. Craft projects get them using the tools of literacy such as paper and writing implements.

Here are some tips for finding your child’s inner Picasso or Michelangelo through activities at home:

• Safety first. Make sure all supplies and tools you offer kids are safe and age appropriate.

• Messy is okay. It’s up to you how much mess (and subsequent cleanup) you can tolerate, but try to get comfortable with the reality that creativity can be messy. Limiting art projects to a designated space with clear boundaries is a good idea. Choose a spot with easily washable floors, walls, and furniture. Involve your child in the clean-up process.

• Be creative about materials. Depending on what’s safe for your child’s developmental level, use both typical purchased materials and items you have around the house. Some ideas include finger paints, shaving cream, tempera paint, clay, play dough, fabric scraps, yarn and string, different types of paper (construction, newsprint, gift wrap, wallpaper), old magazines, scrap wood, cardboard, crayons, felt pens, stencils, and much more.

• Don’t expect or judge outcomes. Avoid asking what the new creation is, even if you don’t have a clue what you are looking at. Let your child tell you what he or she is trying to accomplish, if anything, with the project. Try to suspend your adult sensibilities, and see the end result through the child’s eyes.

Above all, let the child’s imagination drive arts and crafts fun at home. When it comes to creativity, there is no such thing as a right way or a wrong way. If kids want to use materials in unusual or unorthodox ways, as long as their ideas are safe, why not let their creativity soar? It’s all about having fun.

Shop Local on Neighborhood Toy Store Day!


With Black Friday set to descend upon us like a Biblical plague, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to dodge the onslaught of newspaper inserts, TV ads and consumer gossip about all those obscene post-Thanksgiving deals. Big-box retailers promise door-busting sales the likes of which our humble society has never seen. I don’t know about you, but the nightmarish phrase “door-busting sale” is enough to convince me to stay home in the comfort of my turkey-induced coma.

For local, independent toy stores, Kazoodles included, it’s impossible to compete with million-dollar ad campaigns and mind-boggling discounts. But why should anybody be competing for the right to incite a crazed, late-night stampede anyway? In response to all the hullabaloo, the world of local toy stores united to bring a better holiday shopping solution: Neighborhood Toy Store Day.

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Why Do Kids Love Monsters?


We’ll see plenty of kids roaming the streets tonight clad in horns, fangs and claws. But all the embrace of monsters by kids leaves me scratching me head. After all, monsters are supposed to be scary, right? The scaly, twelve-eyed, sharp-fanged creatures that lurk underneath your bed and in the shadows of your closet? I remember going to bed paranoid as a kid, begging my mom to use her can of “monster spray” like Raid around my room (in reality it was an empty can of hairspray). Everywhere I look I see monsters of all scary shapes and sizes, and kids aren’t running scared but, for some strange reason, smiling.

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The True Cost of Toys, Part 3


Part 3: An Expandable Toy Universe

Too many toys these days are expendable. We’re expected to shell out $40 for some piece of plastic that gets played with once or twice before our kids grow bored and we end up giving it away, or worse–throwing it in the trash. But instead of buying expendable toys, we should look at buying expandable toys.

When you buy an expandable toy you’re stepping into a massive universe of possibility. Dollhouses need new furniture and a bigger family. Train sets need more track and additional boxcars. LEGO, Playmobil and K’Nex have built extensive universes of their own, adding new sets all the time, growing almost infinitely, providing kids with endless opportunity to grow their toys into massive collections.

And while your head might spin with nightmares of stepping barefoot through minefields of plastic blocks, the concept of expandable toys can save headaches in the short run, the long run and every run in between.

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