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.
If you’re working on color concepts in your house, playing games can be a fun way to reinforce the concepts. Here five favorites:
Candy Land Castle Game (Milton Bradley)
Hot Wheels Color Shifters Blaster (Mattel)
Color Wonder Paper and Markers (Crayola)
Lego Duplo (Lego Systems)
Complete reviews are on our site www.toyportfolio.com
Read our article about Top Toys for Kids with ADHD. We’ve posted both a toy list and general guidelines that are good to have in mind before you set out to go shopping. And rather than be annoyed with your relatives for not getting it…send them the list as well.
I’m a big fan of Battleship. I used to sit next to my big brothers on the porch while they would play–and it was a really big deal when I finally got old enough to play a round. So when the new version came in this month–we were pretty excited. Unfortunately this vertical edition (where you are playing on opposite sides of the same vertical board) -doesn’t quite work as well as the original. Our testers loved it during a recent game day–but then they discovered that if you bump the board, the pieces fall out and then you’re really out of luck. We hope they find a way of securing the peg pieces more effectively.
The Curious George Discovery Beach Game is great fun (and even looking at a beach on a cold January day made us feel better). The board is really innovative. The board shows a seascape with puzzle like pieces that lift off. Now here’s the really cool part–below the puzzle pieces there is “blue sand” that is safely behind clear panels. Players actually shake the whole board (box) and when they do they redistribute the sand and the hidden treasures. We found that shaking the box was a great hit with players.
The object is to collect six cards representing hidden treasure that you look for on your turn (the spinner tells you where you may look on your turn). So it’s a really fun visual discrimination game that moves pretty quickly (also a plus with this age group).
The other GREAT aspect of this game are the directions…which are much clearer than my explanation I think….kudos to the team at I Can Do That! Games for making the directions so easy we only had to read them once and we were good to go.
Curious George Discovery Beach Game is the type of game your older preschooler and early school age kids will want to play again and again. ($16.95). We have given the game an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award–but we can already tell it will be a strong contender for our year end Platinum Awards.
One of our favorite games this year has to do with listening. Diggity Dog (International Playthings $19.99) asks players to listen to the number of times the big electronic dog barks – and then the player must move his game piece that many times. When you land on the space, your magnetized dog picks up a bone. If the color on the bone matches your dog, you keep the bone in your dog house. One of our parent testers loved that kids really had to concentrate and listen. The games involves simple counting and color concepts. The kids loved the sound effects! A good choice for kids 3 & up. For other award winning games visit www.toyportfolio.com.
Sometimes it feels that for some reason, some group of toy makers, somewhere have determined that girls can only play with pink toys. A new innovative toy is introduced and within one season, there’s always a new “pink” version. Even great classic toys like Monopoly and Twister are now pink-a-fied. Perhaps it’s my formative years in the 70s women’s movement, but why must it be pink? Several years ago when scientific studies indicated that playing with building blocks developed important visual perception skills that helped kids achieve higher math scores — toy makers responded with building kits for girls (a good thing)–pink and lavender (unfortunately), and the themes: build a mall, a stable or a cottage (even more upsetting).
I have nothing against pink. Ok, as a kid I did. Much to the dismay of my mother, I really preferred the Hot Wheels tracks that my brothers played with to the dream dollhouse she bought me (that stood without a homemaker for most of my childhood). I have since apologized for not really getting into the whole “doll” thing either. My worst playdate — being sent to a house where the effusively pink bedroom was chockful of huggables and dolls — both sisters were very excited to play dolls. I never went back. They were well meaning, but it just wasn’t my thing.
As a professional toy reviewer (and mother of two boys), I quickly saw that there was also a problem on the other side of the equation. Boys tend to get two types of presents: things that move and things to build- that’s pretty much it. When we first started toyportfolio.com, a mother was surprised that I suggested a toy kitchen for her son. “Do you want him to grow up and feel comfortable in a kitchen?” I asked. This is where it starts. When my younger son and his friend took their dolls (yes, both my sons loved huggables and dolls) in their strollers to the park, an adult commented loud enough for everyone to hear “only in Greenwich Village”. He then asked the boys (almost three years old) what they were doing. “We’re playing daddys” they both chimed. It was one of my proudest parenting moments. They parked their “babies” and ran off to play on the climbing equipment.
Throughout the years we have kept track of what we call the GenderAgenda in Toyland. Our annual book has a gender-free list of toys and products that bend the gender agenda. We applaud toy kitchen makers like Step 2, Little Tikes and Small World Toys–that have broken away from the stereotypical pink kitchen.
So what can you do?
Buy building sets for your daughter – the more open-ended the better!
Buy a gender free ride-on (they also have the added advantage of being enjoyed by younger siblings no matter what their gender).
Buy your son some dishes and a toy kitchen. Your future daughter-in-law will love you for it.
Buy board games for both – playing games enforces not only reading, math and language skills- it’s an important way of introducing negotiating skills – something we all need!
Since we didn’t publish our book this year, I thought I’d share our GenderAgenda list with the caveat that with the exception of the Cat In The Hat Game and the Kidizoom Camera, we did not test any of these toys for lead.
ActiviTot Developmental Mat (Tiny Love)
Amazing Baby Sound Balls (Kids Preferred)
Cosmic Catch (Hasbro)
Go Baby Go Stride to Ride Lion (Fisher-Price)
Hyper Dash (Wild Planet)
Cat in the Hat! I Can Do That! (I Can Do That!)
Kidizoom Camera (VTech)
Kitchen Appliances (various makers)
Retro Rocket (Radio Flyer)
Trikke 5 (Trikke Tech)
Word Whammer Fridge Phonics (LeapFrog)
Ultimate Lego Duplo Set (Lego Systems)
We’re always on the look out for active games for preschool and early school age kids. It’s not always easy to design games that are right on target for these age groups. If the games are too complicated, you can quickly lose your audience and even at this age if the game seems too babyish – that can also draw a chorus of “We’re too big for this!”
A new company, I Can Do That Games www.icandothatgames.com, seems to completely understand their young audience and has created a wonderful new active game that our testers really enjoyed playing. The Cat In the Hat: I Can Do That! Game ($19.99) is an active game where the Cat in the Hat wants to see what players can do including doing the limbo under the included Trick-a-ma-stick. Game comes with 33 acitivty cards and props right out of the book including a fish, a boat, and a cake.
Parents will love the book connection and kids will enjoy watching their parents joining in the silliness of the game. Ideal for kids 4-8. For other award winning games, visit www.toyportfolio.com.