Pick of the Day: Leapfrog’s TAG and TAG Junior

December 11, 2009

If you’re looking for a high tech learning toy this season, we high recommend Leapfrog’s TAG and TAG Junior reading systems.  Both marry technology with collections of award winning books. Do they replace reading a book with your child? Of course not–but they will encourage your kids to explore and “read” books on their own.

Full review and shopping info for both

TAG Reading System

TAG Junior Reading System

We’d skip their My Pal Scout–this is designed to be an interactive pet for toddlers.  We found him to be less than huggable and the skills he’s meant to teach are better taught with real life experiences.  All of the current interactive, downloadable dolls on the market pale in comparison to the old Actimates from Microsoft.  Their original Barney really became Barney for little children. It was truly magical to watch kids interact with this doll.  This doll doesn’t  compare.

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

October 27, 2009
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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)


Parents surf and watch TV eight times more than they read to kids

March 19, 2009

While we’re all on facebook and twittering…not to mention shopping on line and watching tv…it turns out that we’re not reading to our kids.

Leapfrog recently sent me the findings of a study they commissioned that indicated:

“While the majority of parents (83 percent) do read to their child daily, those who do spend an average of about 32 minutes reading, compared with a total of 209 minutes (approximately 3∏ hours) a day watching TV and browsing the Web.”

Does this surprise anyone?  At first this looked really upsetting but if you’re really reading books with your child for 32 minutes a day (if that’s for real)…it’s a good start. It doesn’t mean that the rest of the day our kids should be plugged into the tv/computer.  The problem I always had with my boys is that bedtime reading always became about one more book–and then you feel conflicted– after all you’re thrilled they want to read more…but at some point you realize it’s not about the book, but about not going to SLEEP!!!

LeapFrog is running a promotion in honor of National Reading Month…to inspire kids and parents to read one million hours. If you sign up, you’re in the running to win a TAG Reading System (We gave this electronic reading system our Platinum Award last year.)

For more details on the study, visit


Pre-Toy Fair Buzz: Does your three year old need a BlackBerry?

February 5, 2009

leapfrogblackberryPart of LeapFrog’s new product line this year includes the Text & Learn that references the design of the adult BlackBerry.  While there seems to be a lot of uproar about this latest grown-up device scaled down for the sandbox crowd, there’s really nothing very new about the concept.  When fax machines were new (remember that?), Tyco had a really neat version for kids.  The typical toy phone has gone through many variation that track the design and functions of the real thing.  So it didn’t really seem that unusual to me that there would be a BlackBerry styled toy–given the adult dependence on their devices.  In terms of play value, preschoolers love taking on grown up roles with literal props. Pretend kits for playing office, restaurant, firefighter, etc. are generally a huge hit with this age group.  It’s developmentally right on target in terms of expanding their own sense of themselves in a larger community.  Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean they need this particular electronic prop or any other.  The proof will be in the game play – which is really hard to judge until we see a finished product and try it out with kids.  There is another problem that every parent runs into at some point…even toddlers know the difference between your keys and   some fake set of toy keys.  Most kids will not accept the substitution!  On the other hand,  if this is a fun, easy to take along hand held device that has age appropriate content–it might be very appealing.


Pre-Toy Fair Buzz: Leapfrog’s Zippity System

February 3, 2009

image00212 Move over Wii.  LeapFrog is vying for that active plug in play experience for kids 3-5.  Zippity is co-developed with Disney.  While we haven’t tested it yet, we like the idea that kids are up and moving while playing games that require them to run, jump and hop on the play mat.  Of course the big question will be the content.  The price is $79.95 (comes with eight pre-loaded games)–additional games will be $24.99.  Scheduled for a summer release.


Trends from Toyland: Leapfrog’s TAG

February 14, 2008

tag.jpgFor as many years as I’ve been covering toy fair with my mother, we have had certain gripes that continue from year to year.  One of them has finally been put to rest–thankfully.  Each year we are shown cutting edge technology that is going to teach our kids how to read.  You know the assortment of electronic books and other platforms that have plugged into tvs.  Our gripe: the books were usually poor in quality.  The selections usually include books written in-house by less than inspired authors or a wide selection of licensed characters.  “Where are the good books?”  “Real storybooks?”  we would whine (we own up to it) …. I’m sure at this point many a toy maker would even know what was going to come out our mouths since it was pretty much the same exchange every year.  Until now!

TAG is Leapfrog’s new interactive pen that reads, wait for it….wonderful new and classic storybooks.  The Little Engine That Could, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Olivia…are all part of the library that you can buy for TAG.  Here’s how it works, you buy the book ($13.99 per title) that has been formatted to work with the special TAG pen.  (The pen is $49.99 and comes with one book). You then download the audio off the Internet from the Leapfrog site. The pen can hold the audio for five different books at a time.  The pen can read the story “by the page” or by the word–depending on your child’s preference.  There are also some interactive games that are designed to build reading comprehension skills.  Plug the pen back into the computer and you can track how your child did on these exercises. The whole on-line track-how-your-kid-is-doing is part of the new Leapfrog site and works with many of their new and existing platforms.  Somehow all of this tracking makes me really tense, but I suppose there will be parents who will be into the accountability factor.

Of course none of this replaces reading with  your child–but this is certainly really cool.  We can’t wait to test this one. The product will be available in June.

And again, hats off to Leapfrog for spending the money on quality books.


Gender Free Toys: Do they exist?

December 4, 2007

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!

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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)