February 18, 2010
Crayola's Model Magic!
Based on our visit at Crayola, there’s a lot of promisingly fun products rolling out this year. Happily these toys will start arriving soon. For reviews, check our website www.toyportfolio.com.
Chalk News. You know I’m all a huge fan of their chalk. This year there are new super sets of 3D Chalk (one features Toy Story 3). I love this stuff. But what’s really new is a chalk making set. Looks like our kind of craft kit- we’ll have to see how it works. They also have a spiral top for chalk. My brothers will tell you, I really stink at the spining top thing but even I think I can make this one work. Watch the next post for a demo of the spiral chalk top.
Model Magic. How cute is this new set where you can make little pieces to add to forms.
New Model Magic Sets
Also big, things that Glow in the Dark. During our visit to their showroom, the lights were being turned off repeatedly to show off more glow-in-the-dark sets. I have a sense some will be more successful than others -but we’ll put them all to the test as they come out. We gave their Glow Station an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award.
Glow Station...larger glow-in-dark toy!
New Crafts for Tweens. They have a new line called Pop Art Pixies, featuring four tweens (that look like they’re related to the Fashion Angels) – each has a theme. One likes to recycle, one likes to decorate…you get the idea. Some of the kits looked like they would be great fun for 9-12 year old crafters. Stay tuned. I particularly liked the look of the recycle kits – and will be interested to see how our testers react.
Tween Craft Sets
Amazing On-line Program. You send in a picture of your child, they create a cartoon image based on that photo, you then customize your own coloring book adventure featuring your now “cartoon” child. LOVE this. You get the code for this site when you buy a certain size box of crayons (hey, who doesn’t need a new box of Crayola?). This new platform will launch officially in the fall–but we’re working out details for making it available to our readers soon.
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.
October 27, 2009
Sassy Crib & Floor Mirror
With budgets tight, it’s important to bring home things that really count – and there is no reason to break the bank! Here are some of our top picks for 2009 — all under $20. Read the full reviews on our site.
Sassy Crib & Floor Mirror (Sassy)
Infantino Wall Mounted Mobile Mirror (Step 2)
Stack ‘n Surprise Blocks Blockity-Pop Caterpillar (Fisher-Price)
Baby Deglingos Dog, Rabbit, Hedgehog or Cow (All New Materials)
Satin Ears Bear Security Cozy (North American Bear Co.)
Infantino Spiral Spin Top (Step 2)
Kids Preferred Nutbrown Hare or Peter Rabbit Hand Puppet (Kids Preferred)
Bright Starts Bees & Blooms Balls (Kids II)
Earlyears Zippy Zoomer (International Playthings)
Leapfrog Counting Candles (Leapfrog)
October 19, 2009
You know how much we love the Doodle Track Cars…the folks at Daydream Toy just let me know that the interactive site is now launched–so that you can customize your own tracks. You go to www.doodletrackcar.com and click on Design and Print a Track. Next week they will have a Halloween theme posted. Lots of kids will enjoy customizing their own track–but my favorite is a huge piece of white paper and making your own track. Either way, this is an affordable must have for kids 4 & up that love all things cars! Watch the video.
October 13, 2009
The whole gang during the segment
I actually love doing segments with lots of kids. I think it adds to the energy of the piece – but I do have to say last night I had this momentary thought “eight babies!, really?!…what were you thinking!”
The kids had a long wait until it was time to go into the studio–and one thing I’ve learned over the years, never show kids toys long before they go on air – especially when you’re talking about babies and toddlers. To expect them to be engaged with toys for more than 10 minutes in any given setting, just isn’t reasonable in real life, much less in a tv studio with so many people, lights and cameras around. So we had some other related toys for them to play with in their separate “green room”…but at a certain point, they all started moving about the lower concourse — to say this particular group of kids were cute, is an understatement. The kids were all in what I call that “cupcake” stage where they are just full of pure joy. (At least at that moment!)
Once we got to the set, I was happy. The kids and their parents were engaged with all the toys we had selected. (You can hear them throughout!) Doing segments with Natalie is also fun because she’s in the middle of this zone with her two sons…so she gets it.
This is a picture of Matthew (4 months old)…enjoying hanging out on the Infantino Twist & Fold mat.
And here’s a pic with Natalie after the segment is over….To watch the segment, click here.
Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim
October 6, 2009
When we started the toyportfolio I was pretty annoyed with all the pink building sets. They were all about building a mall or a pony stable– no skyscrapers, no superhero vehicles…just a very limited range of fantasy. We started the Gender Free Toy List in part to bring attention to this color coded approach to children’s play and toys. For the most part, I still stand by those early articles. There is no reason to limit girls or boys to the type of toys they play with. The Corolle Green Umbrella Stroller is on our list this year for a reason. And we have applauded Little Tikes and Step 2 for making gender free kitchens that are acceptable for both boys and girls. (When we started almost all toy kitchens were screaming pink.)
Today we just received the new Wedgits Pink & Purple Tote. Just like their primary sets, this is an open-ended construction toy that’s just fun.
It comes with a set of 48 design cards…that are abstract designs (no malls or ponies in sight). Each card tells the builder how many pieces they’ll need for the creation and then has a picture.
It’s just this type of experience with spatial relations that we want all of our kids to enjoy. The cards will give kids a jumping off point for exploring the set– but the truth is, just put this one out on the family coffee table and see what everyone builds. For a full review of the new Wedgits line, visit www.toyportfolio.com.
October 2, 2009
Kota & Pals Stompers: Triceratops
I’ve been playing with this fun little dino all summer. Unlike the BIG Kota from last season, this little guy actually walks! For a demo and full review, visit the website today www.toyportfolio.com.
September 22, 2009
Step 2 Cafe Barista
Step 2′s new Cafe Barista is a fun pretend prop that very much reflects our coffee-addicted life style. For so many older toddlers and preschoolers that accompany their parents to Starbucks for their Lattes and Mistos…the loud machines that create these drinks are a part of their lives. The Cafe Barista comes with two large cups and a smaller cup (for the froth of course!). The machine does make a good deal of noise…true to the real thing. Watch our video. Read our full review, www.toyportfolio.com. Our only complaint…the cups have holes in them — so this is strictly a pretend drinking toy. For some folks this is preferred…but for most toddlers…the filling and spilling of water in a real cup is a great deal of fun. The holes are there for safety purposes–we applaud the concern but hope the team at Step2 can fashion a solution that addresses both function and safety.
September 21, 2009
By this time in the toy season, we’re pretty jaded. We’ve seen just about every new toy coming out for this holiday season. So when we say this is the most amazing toy of the year…we really mean it! At $14.99, this is just a magical play experience! The toy’s official name is Doodle-Track Car from Day Dream Toys. For a full review visit, www.toyportfolio.com.
Here’s what you do…you draw a line with a washable marker and then turn on the little car, put it on the paper with the drawn line–and it will follow the line…really….Each car comes with a little track and a marker, but we took big white paper and made our own track. You can also download customized tracks on their website www.doodletrackcar.com.
Watch our video.
September 16, 2009
The new Dora the Explorer Dance Around Dora (from Fisher-Price) dances, twirls, dances on her toes and sings. She even encourages kids to dance with her–also fun. I’m usually not a huge fan of Dora dolls…a bit too plastic for us–but she’s such a huge hit with the preschool crowd, we always take a look. When Dora goes up on her toes–her body expands underneath. Now part of my job is to stick my finger where most kids might…so as her body returned to its original size, I put my finger in the space and sure enough, she pinched me! Not horribly–but something to be aware of. Watch the video.