Five Great Color Concept Toys/Games for Preschoolers

November 2, 2009

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)

eeBoo Preschool Color Memory Game (eeBoo)

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

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Toy Wars and George Costanza’s shrinkage factor

October 8, 2009

Even though most of us haven’t even contemplated buying our Halloween candy yet (ok, I’ve contemplated but I haven’t bought any yet), the major box retailers want you to think holiday toy shopping TODAY!  Walmart has expanded its offer of  toys for $10 to 100 items…KB Toys saw that and raised it to 200, and Target is  trying to match prices.  There’s free shipping to be had…and if you’re really sharp, you can find certain Barbie dolls for as little as $5.

So what’s a toy consumer to think?

1. Toy prices are getting a much needed adjustment. All of that toy safety testing costs a lot –and if you’ve bought a toy recently you’ll know that the added expense has been passed on to consumers.  While we don’t rate toys based on price, we have had sticker shock here as we’ve watched the prices just continue to climb for the past two years. So from this point of view toy wars are good, very good.

2. Less Inventory. If there’s something your child wants for the holidays, buy it early.  Tight inventories is another way retailers have protected themselves this year.

3. Shrinkage…

One of the trends we’ve watched this season is shrinkage…which always makes me thing of Seinfeld’s infamous shrinkage episode with George in the Hamptons.

Toy makers are making many of the same type of toys they used to…but smaller…much smaller…and much less expensive.

For example, last year we featured Playskool’s $300 Kota My Triceratops Dinosaur. This high tech dino-wonder was big enough for your child to sit on! Rec_kota

This year, the same manufacturer is offering Kota & Pals  Stompers – TriceratopsRec_tristompHe walks on my desk. Watch the video. He’s very cute and he actually walks (something the big guy can’t do)…but still, this is what the price wars mean.

So does this mean you should buy only $10 toys this holiday season?

There are in fact lots of toys for $10 and under that are really great. We have many award winners that fit the bill, but buying lots of “stuff” seems like a mistake in the long run. Keep in mind that 60% of our toy dollars are spent this time of year…so bringing home toys that will have lasting play value makes more sense in terms of having toys your kids will play with after the holidays are over.

Open-ended toys and supplies are a better bet. I love novelty toys as much as the next guy…and there are some on our list this year.  The holidays are about making dreams come true, but if you’re looking to make your dollar stretch…buying more open-ended toys is the way to go.  Art supplies, games (that are played again and again), blocks, pretend props (toy kitchens, dollhouses), and toys for active play (ride-ons, sporting equipment)…all will be enjoyed  for a long time and played with differently as your child grows.

Pool your resources. If there’s a toy that your child really wants that costs a little more, have your family chip in. Much more fun to get the present you wanted, then lots of little token gifts from aunts and uncles.

The olden days. There was a time when we didn’t go to the toy store with a shopping cart.  We got fewer toys…not necessarily a bad thing.

Get Your Screwdriver Ready. One way to keep prices down…toy makers leave more for parents to do. Many toys don’t even come with the pre-drilled holes.  If you’re handy with a power drill/screwdriver, you’ll be fine. If you’re not, we warned you.

Make it count. We started the toyportfolio with the tag..we test all the toys so that “you don’t waste your money or your child’s time.”  So  no matter what your budget, we’ve tried to take the mystery of finding a great toy.   So take a look at our Platinum List!


Top Toys for Kids with ADHD

September 30, 2009

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.


Rubik’s Cube…new site “www.youcandothecube.com”

July 20, 2009

The makers of Rubik’s Cube are aiming to help kids master the cube…and use that skill as a positive message for life. Having thrown my fair share of Rubik’s Cubes across the room as a kid….I could have used a little help!  (My brother figured it out the first afternoon, put it down in front of me and said… “there, not so hard” and left the room.  The site is www.youcandothecube.com.  I’m still a big fan of the original…our testers did not like new 360 Edition…where you have a sphere to contend with…even our best brain teaser experts felt it wasn’t the same “skill” experience.


Best Outdoor Toys

June 4, 2009

I really love that we’re heading into summer with longer days – which means more time to be outside with our kids. Here are some of our new favorites for the season…we’ll be continuing to update this list in the coming weeks.

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Nature Station Playhouse (Step 2)  I love this little playhouse that is designed for older toddlers and preschoolers – maybe because it looks like Pooh, Tigger and Piglet should be there too. Kids enjoy having small spaces that are designed just for them. This playhouse has a working periscope (really fun), a sink, a working shutter,  and a fenced in area so if you’re invited in- there’s a bigger space for adults. This product is pricey at $249.99 but will be used for a long stretch. (This playhouse  is marked 3 & up  due to all the extra things that come with it–but the structure itself will be enjoyed by younger children. There are larger play sets from Step 2 that have more height–our recommendation is take your kids along when you’re shopping for this type of equipment. If you decide to bring this product  home to older toddlers, put the goodies away until they’re older.)

Sandbox Vehicles Eco Trucks from Sprig Toys were a hit with our testers.  These are very lightweight – making them easy for kids to use and to take along to the park or backyard sand box. Made from recycled materials. Our favorite is the Dump Truck.

Dump Truck (Green Toys)  The new line of green trucks from Green Toys are heavier than the Sprig trucks. They feel more like a traditional plastic toy truck- with the upside here being that they are also made from recycled materials.   Handsomely designed – they got high marks from our testers.

Hot Wheels Color Shifters Blaster (Mattel) I’ve already blogged about this toy and I think I’m a little sad that I gave our sample away!  My mother doesn’t agree with my over the top enthusiasm for this play set–but I really think this is one of the best toys going.  I’m suggesting that it’s even better if you play with it outside–because truth be told-it does get alittle wet if you’re really playing with it full tilt.  The cars react to cold and hot water–and will turn a different color when put into either temperature (I KNOW!)  Best yet, it comes with a squirt bottle so you can change the cars by squirting them.  If you don’t want to buy the whole set–I’d suggest buying one of the cars–you can use any squirt bottle to have the same experience.  If you want to be the super cool grown up, bring this toy home to any three year old you know. I do think the car that turns from blue to yellow is much more dramatic than some of the other color changes (yellow/orange).

Sports

Drive, Chip and Putt Golf Trainer (Little Tikes) There are two different”ts’ to hit the golf ball from…making this a little different from your average plastic golf set.  Our testers really enjoyed the sport of this game and the sturdy design made it a solid choice for the 2-4 crowd.

d431ae4ea2e0258e5b58795242af18f9 Monster Badminton Set (International Playthings)  This set will be ready next month but I had to show it to you now.  These over-sized rackets and birdies are just what our family needed. They are fun for little kids–but truth be told, if you’re not the most athletic person–this is a set for you!  You’d be hard pressed to miss this birdie!  It does not come with a net–our toy testers just liked playing with it alone.

Scooters

Maxi Scooter (Kickboard USA) Maybe because I’m not the most coordinated person, I loved the idea of this scooter.  It comes with three wheels and a wider platform for added stability but still  looks cool.  As I hoped, our new scooter testers had no trouble with this scooter and really enjoyed it. It comes with two handles–a traditional T-handle and a joystick.  We recommend the traditional handle as a starting point. It’s designed for kids 6-10.  The company now also makes a Mini Kick Scooter (smaller in scale for younger kids 2-5)…also with three wheels.  Helmets are a must!

Razor Spark Scooter (Razor) The granddaddy of scooters just got a very neat feature. When you break, it sparks out the back. Our testers thought this was pretty cool–although if you’re the one doing the braking, it is hard to see the spark–but your friends will!

Outdoor Treats

Freeze Pop Factory (Little Kids)  According to the company, more than 7 billion freeze pops are sold each year (makes you think we should all go into the freeze pop business!) ….in any case, this do-it-yourself kit is really fun. Comes with those pop sleeves (which magically close up and don’t leak) and plastic molds for making bigger pops.  You can experiment with making your own family recipes and limit the amount of sugar your kids use. Every grown-up I’ve mentioned this kit  to has asked the same question, “Could you make grown up freeze pop for a party?” and then they say…don’t say that out loud….but it’s true. Just don’t get them mixed up. It comes with 36 sleeves for making the pops…and the good news is that you can also order more ($4.95 for 50 including shipping) from the company’s site or by calling (800) 545-5437.


Pick of the Day: Chickyboom from Blue Orange Games

April 29, 2009

Chickyboom from Blue Orange Games is a fun balancing game that appealed to our school age testers (and their parents). Most balancing toys like this ask players to add pieces – here you take away chicks, bales of hay and wagon wheels…they all have different weights and will affect the balance of the perch. Points are assigned for each of the play pieces–the players with the greatest point value (when the rail finally falls over) wins.  Easy to learn –and fun to play. The company says that each round takes about 1o minutes.  Our parent testers gave this one a thumbs up.  We’re giving this one an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award. A solid gender free choice for kids 4 & up.


“You Sunk my Battleship!”

April 3, 2009

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.