February 19, 2010
Paper Jamz from WowWee
Imagine a piece of paper that you can play like a guitar, a drum set…sounds pretty cool. WowWee, always on the cutting edge of fun tech toys, is bringing out a new line call Paper Jamz. The line will include paper thin instruments (six guitars, six drums and an amplifier) that uses what they call Active Graphic Technology. We didn’t get to play with the prototypes at toy fair, but we hope to have samples to try by early Spring. The products will retail from $14.99 for the amp and $24.99 for the drums and guitars.
What some parents may really love..there is volume control AND you can plug in earphones so that your rock-musician-in-training can rock out without driving you crazy!
December 9, 2009
V Tech's Kidizoom Digital Camera Plus
Here are our some of favorites of the season– click on the name of the product to read our complete review at www.toyportfolio.com
For younger children:
LeapFrog Counting Candles (LeapFrog)
Two great cameras for 3s and up to enjoy:
Kidizoom Digital Camera Plus (V-Tech)
Disney Pix Jr Digital Camera (Disney)
If you have a child totally into cars, you need to look at:
Doodle-Track Cars (Day Dream Toys)
For kids 8 & up:
MindFlex Game (Mattel)
Eye Clops Night Vision Binoculars (Jakks Pacific)
For really advanced builders:
December 4, 2009
Hilary Stout’s article in The New York Times, With New Toys, More Assembly Required , correctly points out what we’ve been observing and writing about for years. You need to be ready to roll up your sleeves, arm yourself with a screwdriver, sometimes a power drill — all to put a toy together. If you’re not particularly handy, we recommend that you enlist the assistance of the store or a relative that doesn’t break out in a cold sweat when confronted with complicated assembly instructions. And whatever you do, don’t start at midnight on Christmas Eve–it’s almost a surefire recipe for tears and spousal strife.
That said…the article then goes on to talk about LEGO sets with too many pieces. Here, we have to disagree. The beauty of LEGO sets is that there are sets for all builders…beginners to the most advanced. Most hard core LEGO fans will tell you that the company has made it too easy for builders with the new bagging technique. Rather than open the box and find several hundred pieces — the company now pre-sorts the builds. For LEGO builders of the past– this new approach has been labeled strictly for whimps! You can hear many a parent say “in my day, we had to go through each and every piece” after we walked five long miles from school.
One of the big messages we try to get out each year is to start at the beginning. If you are doing all of the building and your child is just watching you–you’ve brought home the wrong set. The idea of these sets and why they appeal to kids — is that they build a child’s sense of what they can accomplish. Learning how to read and follow step-by-step instructions is huge. Having the patience to stick with a project – that not everything is instantaneous – is an important life lesson.
It is no surprise to us that LEGO has continued to do well in these tough times and has maintained a strong presence in an otherwise shrinking and battered toy industry. They have maintained their core mission by giving kids fun kits to build, they’ve improved their directions and they have stayed current by bring in themes and licenses that are attractive to their target audience. The most sought after LEGO kits from our testers are in fact the smaller sets where kids can build a car or Star Wars vehicle and then play with it. It is that sense of accomplishment that makes them ask for more. The focus is on building self-esteem and confidence and having fun–not how many pieces you can handle.
We also know that building develops the following skills: visual discrimination, fine-motor, spatial relations, math, reading, ability to follow directions in sequence and problem solving skills. We want both our sons and daughters to be competitive in math and engineering – it begins with these hands-on experiences. So start small. It’s like my grandmother always used to say, don’t worry about the size, buy what fits.
For reviews of our top-rated construction toys–visit www.toyportfolio.com.
November 18, 2009
Patchwork will appeal to people who like fast paced games that call for a smidgen of strategy and a lot of luck. Each player draws seven cards (if you’re playing with only two players) and puts them on the arc-shaped wooden holders. The cards have fun graphic designs (if you have a friend into design, this is a game for them) that are printed sometimes on both sides of the same card–or two different patterns on one card. You can only look at the front of your cards and the back of your opponents cards. In other words you don’t get to see both sides of either set of cards…and that’s where the fun begins.
On each move you get two actions — with the goal of collecting four, five or six cards from either your own cards or your opponents. You do this by getting at least four cards in a row with the same pattern. Since you can see things that your opponent can’t (and vice versa), the opportunities to score look and are different for each player. There’s something very cool about that aspect of play.
Apart from really enjoying the game play, I love the wooden card holders–which would come in handy for younger children who often have difficulty holding cards. We do need to note that while we love the game, earlier versions had wooden arcs that were too rough in our opinion. The company has successfully addressed this quality issue- making this an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award winner. Visit their site: www.knightweavergames.com.
November 17, 2009
Green toys used to mean a recycling truck here or there…or a paper maker, but now there are many toys that are either manufactured with a green mandate or promote a positive green message to kids. The biggest trend are dolls made from organic materials–not all created equal in our book. Green shouldn’t have to mean scratchy or boring in design or color. Happily we received many that found the right blend of green and whimsy! The other big category — trucks…many made of recycled materials – were a real draw to our testers. Then there are the throw back toys–my personal favorite, the wind-up FM Radio.
Here’s the list of our Top Green Toys for 2009. Complete reviews on our our site, www.toyportfolio.com. Click on the toy name to read our rating/review.
Eco Trucks (Sprig Toys)
Dump Truck (Green Toys)
Playmobil Recycling Truck (Playmobil)
PushAlong Hybrid Car (ImagiPLAY)
Plan Toys Build ‘n Spin (Plan Toys)
Dolls and Dollhouse
blabla Dolls (blablakids)
Organic Joobles (Fair Indigo)
Earth Mates (Mary Meyer)
Plan Toys Green Dollhouse (Plan Toys)
Other Green Toys of Interest
Crayola Crayon Maker (Crayola)
Elia Mini Chair (eliafun.com)
Ecotronics Radio (International Playthings)
Ecotronics Mr. Robot Head (International Playthings)
November 8, 2009
We just tried out the new Cir*kis from Hasbro. Much like the strategy game Blokus (originally with Educational Insights but now distributed by Mattel), Cir*kis has a grid platform and you play with plastic pieces. Blokus is much more straightforward and fun to play. See our full review. Cir*kis is more complicated–you’re not blocking your opponent but making your own circles and stars and keeping track with pegs. It’s just not as elegant a game.
November 8, 2009
If word games are your thing, you’ll enjoy the new twist provided by Word on the Street by Out of the Box. Read our complete review. We’re giving this one an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award. Loads of fun for the 12 and up crowd.
November 8, 2009
Last night at eleven o’clock democracy was in action. The House took a historic vote on health care reform–broadcast on all the cable shows. For a brief moment, the procedure of law making had spilled over from CSPAN to a larger audience. No matter how you come out on health care reform, the picture of all of our law makers battling it out all day and finally taking the vote has to make you pause. Warts and all, it’s a pretty amazing country to live in.
I’m not just feeling patriotic today–there is a toy connection here, I promise.
Consensus Junior Edition by Mindlogic
Consensus Junior Edition by Mindlogic is a fun, engaging game that is all about consensus building (with a little language thrown in). How’s that for a concept in a nation that usually trumpets individuality? Read our complete review of this newly award winning (Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award) game.
November 5, 2009
A truly special gift for school age girls who will love both the wood chest and the painted wooden beads that come with it. Read our review. This company makes lovely sets that always appeal to our tween, teen and adult testers.
Bejeweled Bead Chest from Bead Bazaar
November 3, 2009
Mattel's MindFlex Game
The first time we saw this game was at toy fair. Now in all fairness, when we go to toy fair, we’re a pretty silly group. So when the demonstrator for MindFlex at the Mattel showroom was trying his best to show us this super cool toy, we kept distracting him. At one point, he even seemed a little anxious about not being able to perform his toy demonstrator duties.
He wore a headgear that had two clips that he attached to his earlobes. From there he told us that he could control the little blue ball with his mind-making it go up and down and through the obstacle course. To be absolutely honest here, I was sure we were being punked. I kept looking around to see if this was a joke. They assured me that it was for real–and that normally when people allow the guy to do his thing it really works.
Ok, ok…sometimes we don’t behave well. I wrote down the toy as something we’d love to see but then I stopped thinking about it. Last month while I was at the Today Show, Dave– one of the best stage managers ever– showed me a clip of his son working the MindFlex. ( What would we all do without our iphone video clips?) Anyway…he could not say enough great things about this toy. How it appealed to both of his boys and that it helped with working on concentration as a skill.
With that great recommendation, we asked for one to be sent right away. Sure enough this is one of the coolest toys we’ve tested, period. We’ve added it to this year’s Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award List.
The other amazing aspect of the toy is that it appeals to tweens, teens and adults. My dad, a spry guy in his late 70s, also took a run at the toy. He was surprised , as was every adult that has tried it, that he could make it work. It really is so futuristic — makes me wonder what kind of toys I’ll be reviewing down the road.
So if you’ve seen an ad or a commercial – know that this is for real and loads of fun. The platform has interchangeable parts so that you can challenge yourself and others to different obstacle courses. Such a great design aspect–making this a more open-ended play experience. And if you’re looking for something to buy a video game addicted teen, here you go.
Click here to read our full review…and watch the video.