PETA weighs in on the Best & Worst Toys

December 8, 2009

We look at toys all year long…we’re always writing about  new trends and new ways of sorting the toys (gender-free, green, multi-cultural, price, high-tech, etc. ). When we first started  toyportfolio.com  we had a Top Ten Worst Toy List — a list that probably didn’t make us too many friends in  toyland…but was a favorite with feature reporters. Our worst list came to mind when we received word of the  new PETA list – naming Naughty and Nice Toys for 2009— yet another perspective on toyland.  Take a look at their list.

I wonder whether the organization is in favor of all the fake animals…zhu zhu hamsters, furreal pets, etc?

Advertisements

Pick of the Day: Les Deglingos

December 3, 2009

The weather is a little zany here in nyc…windy, oddly warm, sun, then no sun…in any case it made me think of the really playful collection of Les Deglingos.  Everyone that comes into our office reaches for them…they have a folk art feel–but are edgy all at the same time.  The mixture of textures are fun for little fingers to explore.  Read our full review.


toyportfolio.com: Top GREEN Toys for 2009

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.

Trucks

Eco Trucks (Sprig Toys)

Dump Truck (Green Toys)

Playmobil Recycling Truck (Playmobil)

PushAlong Hybrid Car (ImagiPLAY)

Building Toys

Plan Toys Build ‘n Spin (Plan Toys)

Citiblocs (Citiblocs)

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)


Toyportfolio.com: Top Ten Toys for Babies and Toddlers Under $20

October 27, 2009
Rec_cribfloor

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)


Baby Einstein Videos: Not a Ticket to Harvard

October 24, 2009

We’ve taken a lot of heat for not embracing baby videos.  When the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with their recommendation against videos for kids under the age of 2– we were delighted (and quite frankly it made it possible for us to continue excluding these videos from our television segments despite a lot of pressure). But we still knew that these videos have become a staple in most households with very young children.

So I was really happy to read  The New York Times article “No Einstein In Your Crib? Get a Refund” by Tamar Lewis that discusses the announcement that Baby Einstein has agreed to offer parents a refund of $15.99 for up to 4 videos bought during the last five years.  The settlement came after a threatened class action lawsuit alleging that the company made false claims that these videos were educational.  Kudos to Susan Linn, Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, for taking on Disney (it bought the Baby Einstein Company in 2001).

While we were taping a segment about the best toys for babies, one of our favorite producers from the local WNBC came to our offices with her baby and one of her friends brought her baby as well so that we could get their kids on tape.  Our producer’s baby was completely engaged– at 9 months he was completely taking in the world around him.  He delighted when his mom would play with him.  He was thriving.  In contrast her friend’s baby, also 9 months old–was very muted.  His mother, an investment banker, was insisting that the Baby Einstein videos were doing wonders for her son.  She was a walking billboard for the Baby Einstein marketing strategy.  And no matter what my mother and I said to her about how babies benefit more from  “real life” interactions with real people, she would not be moved from her belief that these videos were preparing her baby for preschool, doing well in elementary school and beyond.

When the videos first came out I was taking a graduate class  in neurological development in children at NYU.  I thought maybe my mother and I were missing something. It’s important not to be closed minded so I brought in one of the best selling Baby Einstein videos for a screening.   The class and my professor were stunned and then there was just a lot of laughing.  When I told them that this was a multi-million dollar business, they were shocked. There was no research supporting that  showing random images and exposing kids to the four different languages at the same time delivered any magic educational bullet.

What Baby Einstein and others in the market  accomplished was to scare parents–that if they didn’t buy these videos their kids would be left behind.  The success of these videos spawned a multi-million dollar industry and I can’t tell you how many video makers in this category would try to get us to change our mind.

That investor banker mom also argued that her child knew and wanted the videos.  So we put one on and watched both babies.  It was true that when the music came on,  both raised their arms in excitement and then they became glued.  “See they love it!”   She’s right they recognized the music and responded happily. Anyone who has watched young children (or let’s face it, adults) in front of the tv, know that it’s easy to become dazed- it certainly doesn’t mean something educational is happening.  (In fact, young children will often watch something very scary on the tv without emotion or moving away because they can’t make the leap between reality and fantasy, they literally can’t make that break.)

When we suggested that awake  play time would be better spent getting down on the floor and engaging her son, she just shook her head. The video had won.

Of course the whole “smarter baby” push is not limited to videos.  During the same period that Baby Einstein came on the scene, most toy companies got on the same bandwagon- pushing toys that were going to make your baby smarter, faster.  This meant that almost every baby toy was covered with the “ABCs”.  One of my “you have to be kidding” moments at toy fair was being shown a Baby Einstein toy (licensed to Playskool) that encouraged babies to find the rhyme!  Yes, babies that aren’t even talking yet were to find the word and image that rhymed with bat.  What was even more alarming were the number of young editors from parenting magazines taking it all in–“wow” “that’s great”….

The whole “hurry-up baby syndrome” unfortunately gave parents the wrong information about what they should expect from their babies – not to mention that kids were being given toys that were well beyond them–teaching them nothing but frustration.  While we wrote about this trend in children’s media across the board in our annual books, it was hard to convince new parents that the nursery doesn’t need to be filled with school based skills. Children don’t make the leap to abstract thinking much before the age of three.  So if your child can sing the ABC song at two, it’s usually very cute and will delight the grandparents, but if you ask a two year old what does LMNOP mean…you’ll see, it’s not really too meaningful.  What is important is that babies and toddlers are engaged–we know that young children that are read to on a regular basis, will enter school with at least 300 more words than kids who don’t have that exposure to language.

So I’m delighted with the news and the refunds–just sad that it took so long.  And for what it’s worth my older son probably learned more about his ABC’s  from  Wheel of Fortune.  “Give me an N!”


Pick of the Day: Kids II Bright Starts Bees & Blooms Balls

October 13, 2009

Rec_beesballsThere was a snafu with delivery on this product for the Today Show today–so they didn’t make it on the set, but this is a lovely set of fabric balls (that have different textures and sounds) from KidsII.  We usually don’t go for such gender specific toys–but this is right on target for older babies and toddlers. Read our full review.


Behind the Scenes at the TODAY SHOW

October 13, 2009
The whole gang during the segment

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. Picture 10

And here’s a pic with Natalie after the segment is over….To watch the segment, click here.

Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim

Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim