Five Fantastic Construction Toys

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)

Citiblocs (Citiblocs)

*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.

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Best Green Toy of the Week: Citiblocs (Addictive on the coffee table)

August 11, 2009

Sometimes we get toys that are marketed to kids and yet we find that almost every grown-up that comes near them  just starts playing with them.  Since playing is good at any age, I feel it’s very important to write about these types of products.  You may remember that the magnetic building sets that burst onto the market several years ago had that appeal – making them a great choice to just have  on the coffee table for some open-ended play time for anyone so inclined. Research also indicates that type of activity for adults is great for keeping those brain neurons firing.

This year’s winner in this category is Citiblocs by Citiblocs.  At first you might think a box of equally- sized precision cut wooden pieces wouldn’t be that enthralling – at any age…but once you get building, it’s just fun to see how many different variations you can make.  The pieces are very smooth and are made of Radiata Pine from certified renewable forests in New Zealand – making them not only fun, but onto our Green Toy list as well.

Each set comes with ideas for building…they are marked 3 & up, we’d say more like 5 & up and & up and & up!

One of our tester moms (an architect) — LOVED this product.  Somehow we knew she would.


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.


Pick of the Day: PushAlong Dog from ImagiPLAY

April 27, 2009

This friendly PushAlong Dog from ImagiPLAY is just right for toddlers that love have wheel toys but are not ready for cars that have small parts. He doesn’t make any sound–also a welcomed novelty these days!  There’s also a really cute yellow duck, greencar, and red cat in this line. All $14.99.


Pick of the Day: Learning Curve’s Thomas and Friends New Talking Train Set

April 24, 2009

I’m pretty old school when it comes to wooden trains.  Having watch kids play with trains sets for a long time, they usually don’t need a lot of bells and whistles.  Several years ago (before all the lead issues), train makers were looking for ways to compete with all the electronic toys–so there were lots of  trains with lights and sounds.  They were ok, but truth be told if you have a child really in the train zone they provide their own scenarios and excitement.  So I was pretty skeptical when Learning Curve announced voice recognition technology for their new set, Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway-The Great Discovery Set.  I have to say–it is pretty amazing.  Sir Topham Hatt greets the trains by name as they go through the station…how does he know?  While one of our testers was amused (not amazed) with this aspect of the toy, what I loved was that he continued to play with the setting in a very traditional manner.  The technology did not take over the play experience–it enhanced the play possibilities.

Trains are a wonderful puzzle–which is why I do not recommend gluing down tracks or being wed to a train table.  Train tracks can take all different turns — I’ve also observed that 4 year olds are better at making train tracks work than most adults.  Watch your child as they work out how to make the tracks connect–it’s really one of those moments to enjoy.

This 35 piece set comes with enough for making a figure eight, the Great Waterton Station, Morgan’s Mine, Thomas and Stanley.  The trains and accessories are sold separately so you can them to your existing trains.  The sound levels are set very high when you demo them in the box–the good news, you can turn down the volume.   With BRIO all but gone from the US market–it’s nice to see Thomas the Tank back with all engines a go.


Zoom, zoom…New Automoblox

March 10, 2009

c9r_08_front3qOk, so if a new sportscar isn’t in your future any time soon — this desk-size version from Automoblox may make you feel a bit better.  This particular car is their C9R model.  We’ve been big fans of these beautifully designed wooden cars that also can be taken apart. Designed for kids-but will also be enjoyed as a great office toy!


Top Trends from ToyFair 2009: Plan Toys

February 27, 2009

Plan Toys , a Thailand based toy maker, had one of the most exciting collection of new toys this season. We were happy when we walked away from their booth–both Joanne and I were thrilled with the design, eco-friendly design and the incorporation of a green message in their play settings. 6229-eco-home-1

We’ll want to see their new Eco Town (the house at right) is just part of a bigger system that you can to (eco vehicles, charging station for the cars, train station, etc.). You’ll note the house has solar panels and Wind Turbine.

If you’re looking for a bigger more traditional dollhouse with the same commitment to green architecture, the Green Dollhouse also looks promising (below). 7156-green-dollhouse-with-furniture What’s also really pleasing is not only is the green message incorporated in the play pattern, but the company also walks the walk by using recycled wood and what they call E-Zero MDF for assembly. We have also always loved this line because it is gender-free.