Right before we went on air, our 4 minute segment became 3.5 minutes–that’s right–to talk about over 15 great Platinum Award winning products! We also had kids on the plaza (bundled up) that were really into playing with the Castle of Courage from Step 2, the Arena from Playmobil, and the Candy Land Castle Game from Hasbro. Al Roker is always fun to do segments with – and I usually like doing segments outdoors because the crowds are there – giving that extra energy that you don’t get if you’re in the studio. The downside? The wind today was kicking up. So right before we were about to go on live, I turned sideways and all of my hair got caught in my lip gloss. Not the best look. But more important than my hair was that the Havoc Heli RC helicopters from Spinmaster couldn’t fly – too much wind for these really cool tiny helicopters that are meant for indoor use or a very calm day. Thankfully the big K’nex Double Ferris wheel did not fall over! It looked iffy there for a moment too. Of course I could really talk about any one of these products for 3.5 minutes–so it’s always hard to decide what the sound bite will be for each–and I didn’t want to skip any–so it was full steam ahead. If you want more info about these award winning products, you’ll find a lot more on our website at www.toyportfolio.com and we also have posted a calmer discussion of some of our award winners on www.youtube.com. The best sign of a successful segment, the kids didn’t want to stop playing with the toys after the segment was over!
Just got back from setting up our toy segment for the Today Show tomorrow morning. Rockefeller Center was packed with all the people waiting for the tree lighting–an event that seems to get bigger and bigger every year. We have so many great toys to talk about–and only about 4 minutes to cover just a small portion of our Platinum List (complete list is on our site at www.toyportfolio.com). As hard as this season has been because of the lead/safety issues, it’s always fun to see our award winners ready for tv the night before. While we don’t make any of these toys or sell them, after a year of searching for the “best”, we do get a certain sense of pride about them. The studio was packed with cooking segment people, holiday table decoration people, producers, art directors and the amazing crew that puts it all together. It’s a dance of boxes, props and people — that happens every afternoon like clockwork!
A few weeks ago we announced that going forward companies would have to comply with our new safety guidelines when submitting a toy for review. We now require companies to sign off that their product has ZERO lead and ZERO phthalates. This means that the product may not have surfaced coated or embedded lead. Currently the federal government allows up to 600 ppm of surface coated lead and has no regulations as to embedded lead or phthalates. For more details on the differences between the two types of lead, visit www.toyportfolio.com. We have also indicated to past award winners that if they would like to be listed on a lead free list, they need to supply us with the form.
So far the number of companies that have complied: zero.
We will keep you posted. We will start posting the names of the companies that do comply. A number of companies have been in touch to let us know that they are working on it – but as of today, we have not received a single signed form.
I really love remote control cars. At toy fair every year I look forward to seeing the newest entries in this catergory. There are the big muscle RC vehicles that can do amazing spins and go through mud and water–and keep on going. These are always a big hit with adults as well as older kids.
But what if your five year old is asking for a remote control vehicle? Ideally you want to bring home an RC that’s easy enough to operate, making the experience fun and not frustrating.
Our favorites for this age group this year come from Kid Galaxy www.kidgalaxy.com. Bump n Chuck R/C Bumper Cars ($35) has a odd name but you’ll want to play with this set too. If you bump into your opponents car, the “driver” will pop out! We also liked their more challenging Scoop n Shoot RC Basketball ($40) where you are actually shooting small basketballs balls into the backboard on the moving basket. (This toy was not tested for lead content.)
We’re always on the look out for active games for preschool and early school age kids. It’s not always easy to design games that are right on target for these age groups. If the games are too complicated, you can quickly lose your audience and even at this age if the game seems too babyish – that can also draw a chorus of “We’re too big for this!”
A new company, I Can Do That Games www.icandothatgames.com, seems to completely understand their young audience and has created a wonderful new active game that our testers really enjoyed playing. The Cat In the Hat: I Can Do That! Game ($19.99) is an active game where the Cat in the Hat wants to see what players can do including doing the limbo under the included Trick-a-ma-stick. Game comes with 33 acitivty cards and props right out of the book including a fish, a boat, and a cake.
Parents will love the book connection and kids will enjoy watching their parents joining in the silliness of the game. Ideal for kids 4-8. For other award winning games, visit www.toyportfolio.com.
If you’re not thrilled about handing over your expensive camera to your five year old, we highly recommend the new Kidizoom Camera from VTech. Priced at $59.99 this is a much more affordable (and safe) way to introduce your kids to photography. Features include dual eye viewing (a plus for young photographers), a 1.8 LCD screen, 16 MB of memory and an auto flash. Our testers also liked the added features of the zany faces and hats you can add to your work on the camera screen or when you put your picture on the computer. Marked 3 & up, but we’d really say more like 5 & up. We also liked that the chunky orange/yellow camera will be enjoyed by both boys and girls!For more information, visit www.toyportfolio.com.
Besides taking their own photos at family events, you can make a book together. Of course you can make a book about anything but here are some topics to get started:
1.my favorite pet
2.an alphabet book with objects found around the house
3.a book about shapes (share a Tana Hoban book for inspiration)
I didn’t think it was possible to make a better crayon dispenser than the big box of Crayola crayons we all used to look forward to at the beginning of the school year. That new crayon smell, the built-in crayon sharpener–brings you back, right? This year Crayola came up with the Crayola Telescoping Crayon Tower–pull on the center of the plastic tray and you now have three levels of crayons (150 in all), plus a sharpener. It’s one of those products that make you wish you could have one of your own for your desk. A really great gift, and at $14.95–you really could buy two!
Elmo is back this season with new tricks in hopes of maintaining his dominance in the novelty doll category. The original Tickle Me Elmo was an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award winner. In fact Joanne’s appearance on the Today Show helped fan the Elmo craze when Bryant Gumbel was so taken by Elmo that he played with it during several segments of the show.
More recent variations of Elmo have lost the appeal of the original Tickle Me Elmo for one very simple reason. The original was also very huggable–true it had that extra novelty–but at the end of the day you were left with a soft doll. The new versions have a hard body (to make the new tricks possible)– but gone is the huggability factor.
My favorite novelty doll is Arnold the Snoring Pig from Gund. Squeeze him and he really does snore–complete with one ear shaking — it’s hard not to hug him and, you guessed it, he’s extremely huggable. Visit www.toyportfolio.com for more info on Arnold.
If you have kids under six, the answer is probably more times than you would like to remember. For many of us we start out with fond memories from our own childhood (the game was introduced in 1949). “How cool is this?” you may say to yourself when you share the game with your kids for the first 20 times. But slowly it comes over you, “did my parents have that same sense of dread when I would run with the box and ask to play it again and again?”
Unlike so many other games for young children, Candy Land has stood the test of time because it is so straightforward and reinforces concepts that young children are working on mastering (counting, color concepts).
Don’t despair! Hasbro’s new Candy Land Castle game is a great alternative for weary parents. The new version has a clever castle form that has a lever (we love levers) –that dispenses a game piece. The goal is to fill up your game board with all of the colors in Candy Land — borrowing on another classic favorite, bingo. While we often complain about ugly plastic design, there’s something pleasing about the castle and playing pieces with this set. For other board games that tested well this season, visit www.toyportfolio.com.
The number one question business reporters are asking me this week–will people shop differently this holiday season? I don’t think it’s reasonable to imagine that we’re going to stop buying toys for our kids–but what will people buy? More European toys? More books and videos? On the one hand, fewer toy purchases would send a clear signal to toy retailers and toy makers that we’re serious about toy safety. But do you really want to be the parent that says to your child “we’re making a political statement darling”?