February 17, 2010
We stopped by Playmobil today and visited with Michelle Winfrey. Last year you’ll remember we gave the Playmobil Egyptian setting our Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award. Each year we wonder what will be the big new theme. This year, there were several new sets that I think will be a hit with our testers. The two biggest sets are the Dragons - complete with Castles that can connect by a bridge. It made me think of that portion of the original Shrek movie. (Of course here the dragons are not trying to court Eddie Murphy, but hey it’s pretend so I guess anything’s possible!). You can take a closer look by watching our video with Michelle.
Playmobil's Fire Fighter Sets
The next set that really caught our attention was the Fire Fighters. What we love about Playmobil is the attention to detail in planning a series. As you’ll notice in our video of the Fire Fighters series, there’s not only a really cool looking fire station (complete with pole), there are two different fire trucks, a fire chief’s truck and a fire boat.
February 16, 2010
Star Wars LEGO: Hans Solo being placed in carbonite
If you are a big Star Wars LEGO fan, you’ll be really excited to see the new sets scheduled for 2010. We asked LEGO’s Julie Stern to take us through the new sets so that you could take a look. Watch the video. You’ll hear both my mother Joanne and brother James (noted Tech expert and founder of jamesgames.com) on this video. We’re a noisy bunch.
Oh no! Hans! We'll save you!
On this second video you can see James’ reenactment of Hans Solo being taken away after being frozen in carbonite. It’s this attention to detail that we really appreciate. If you watch this video, you will have a glimpse into my childhood! You can also hear my mother in the background laughing.
February 16, 2010
One of the best press releases I’ve read this week came from LEGO. It affirmed their commitment to open-ended sets. While it’s often their more elaborate model sets that get most of the press, the importance of providing kids with open-ended construction sets can not be underestimated.
LEGO Basic Bucket
This new blue bucket looks promising–it comes with a rainbow of LEGO bricks…and wheels (always fun). There is no right or wrong way here–just whatever you feel like building.
While some kids are more secure having a model to follow–having the freedom to create your own structures is something we should all experience. Chances are you probably have a bucket worth of LEGO bricks around the house…why not spill them out on the table and see what your family comes up with.
February 16, 2010
We started the day at LEGO – always fun. LEGO Duplo is the line designed as an entry point for older toddlers and preschoolers. New for 2010: a bigger bucket–we consider this basic gear for preschoolers.
The big new theme is a farm…
LEGO DUPLO FARM
There’s also a new set that includes numbers as an added feature.
LEGO’s Julie Stern, always a pleasure to work with– took us through the showroom. Watch the video.
January 8, 2010
Yesterday I walked past a display of silverware that was in the form of the Empire State Building. It reminded me of a great game to play with your kids that will keep them busy on a cold winter’s day.
Challenge your kids to build the tallest building using their LEGO Bricks! For younger kids this will be about adding more bricks until the structure falls down. But for older kids this can also become a real hands-on experiment–how do you make the structure more stable? What do we need to add to the base to make it less tippy. If you’re really into the building why not make your own city of skyscrapers. What kind of buildings do they think should be in the city? A sports arena, a shopping mall, a grocery store…always fun to hear what they want on their list. Matchbox cars and trucks can also be used to populate the city. Be sure to take pictures–you’ll be happy to chronicle the challenge. You can also have them create a book with the pictures–something that can be sent to Grandparents or shared on-line. Either way, I like encouraging kids to create their own structures from materials they have around the house.
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 30, 2009
I got to catch a lot of tv this holiday weekend–and started to see the waves of toy tv commercials. Some reminded me of toys that did not win awards from us…and that we needed to post more reviews!!
When we first saw TRIO at toy fair we were all excited. We love open-ended building sets and really get psyched when a large toy company gets behind a new system–making the access to it more affordable. Unfortunately TRIO did not fare well with our testers. The product is marked for kids 3 and up – so we enlisted one of our hard core DUPLO builders–thinking this would be the most likely audience. He had the same trouble we did manipulating the pieces. Unlike DUPLO, it’s hard to pull the pieces apart. We then tried them with a four year old builder–and had the same reaction. We hope the folks at Fisher-Price work on the “pull” factor. The pieces are pleasing–but too frustrating for the intended audience. Our recommendation is to stick with a basic DUPLO bucket at this age.
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 10, 2009
Love this activity table just right for toddlers! Read our full review.
November 5, 2009
Construction toys should be part of every* child’s toy experience. You’ll find that kids develop preferences to building materials–go with it. Our advice is always to start with smaller sets –building your child’s confidence about what they can do rather than frustrating them with a bigger set.
Here are five of our favorites. Click on the toy name to read our full review from www.toyportfolio.com
Lego Star Wars Collection Lego Systems
Plan Toys Build n Spin (Plan Toys)
Wedgits Pink & Purple Activity Tote (ImagAbility)
Lego Racers (Lego Systems)
*Here’s my daily plug about bringing home building sets to girls…it’s important for their math skills down the road. We want them to excel in math and engineering…it starts with building with construction toys.