Great idea but my hands turned green

I wanted to love the new EnviroBLOX from Cadaco.  These look like packing popcorn–but in a great assortment of colors.  The “enviro” part of the equation–the popcorn is made of biodegradable material (cornstarch).  The package is a resealable bag, also good.  And when you’re done with this toy, you literally wash it away.  All sounds fantastic and I love construction and art materials.  This one offers both–a very open -ended material.

The problem for me is that when I used them, I used too much water (I don’t think I’m that different from your average five year old in this respect).  The product is marked 3 & up. My hands turned a greenish blue and it took several hand washings and a shower to finally get it off my hands.

Reminds me of when I thought (prior to starting the OTP) that I should go into the colored bubble business.  Not having any background in engineering (and having been not the strongest chemistry student either)–I added food coloring.  I had my two nieces with me (in their brand new white sneakers and pink and white outfits).  You can predict the outcome.  No one was amused that I had permanently stained their clothes and sneakers.

Help Reading Is Fundamental (RIF): It's easy to do

President Bush’s proposed budget for 2009 eliminates the funding for RIF’s Book Distribution Program. Without the funding, the organization will not be able to distribute 16 million books to the nation’s most at-risk children.

Carol Rasco, the wonderful President of RIF, has asked that we all write to our representatives–and I must say the process for doing this is remarkably easy on the RIF website. It will take all of 2 minutes (max)! Please visit RIF and voice your protest today!

We had the honor of working with Carol Rasco, the dedicated staff at RIF and the amazing network of volunteers all over the country with our literacy initiative, Read It! Play It! .

Wooden Trains…an interesting twist from Plan Toys

It’s really unfortunate that wooden trains have taken such a hit this past year. Wooden trains are one of our favorite play experiences for preschoolers. Putting down tracks is really an open-ended puzzle (hence our recommendation to stay clear of play tables that recommend gluing down tracks). If you’ve ever watched a preschooler work at the process of putting the tracks down, you can almost sense the brain power involved. I’ve also discovered that somewhere around four, most kids are far better at figuring out the tracks than their parents!

Since Brio was acquired by K’nex, the train line has taken a back seat to their core business. Sure there were a couple of new add-ons shown at toy fair, but I miss the “lines” of trains that had interesting themes. Having covered wooden train sets for over seventeen years (how many people can say that?), it’s sad to see how the line has diminished. The lead issue also rocked the world of parents who believed that they were bringing home heirlooms to their kids when they bought pricey bridges and sets from Learning Curve’s Thomas the Tank Engine line.  The bridges, stations, and other accessories are always great from this line. It will be interesting to see if they can regain the trust of parents.

So you can imagine that we were pretty happy to see Plan Toys new Road and Rail set. The handsomely designed station also converts into the storage box for the whole set (pretty neat). We look forward to testing this set. Plan Toys had a number of sleekly designed wooden play settings (garage, airport, etc.) that have that level of design you won’t mind having out in your home. The company also reports that they are phthalates and lead free. We look forward to testing these sets when they’re ready.

Trends from Toyland: Crank it Up!

As part of the green movement, there are two new lines that pull from the past. Both Ecotronic Toys (a British company) and SEE toys are offering toys that you crank up  in order to get lights and sound. Ecotronics even has a crank radio in their line. The idea is to cut down on batteries. When the SEE Toys first arrived in the office, my mother pointed out that the “crank” idea was common in toyland in the ’40s. Of course the toys weren’t plastic–but the idea of getting something to happen without a battery is pretty cool.  We’ve requested the Ecotronic toys–we’ll put both to the test with our testers.

Why I love Hot Wheels

Truth be told, I didn’t play with too many toys as a kid.  I loved my sandbox, and as much as my mother wanted me to love the elaborate (and now I realize) beautiful dollhouse that was given to me, I was really much more into playing with Hot Wheels.  Looking back now, I know that my love of Hot Wheels had much more to do with my brothers.  The youngest of three, I had to work hard to find things I could do with them without being so annoying that I got thrown out of the equation.  I was a great assistant to the elaborate tracks they would put together.

We would go to Davco (the local toy store in Monticello, New York)…I would look at the Barbies — admire the fashions…and then buy another car.  Cars meant entry into the great adventures that went on in our house.  It’s probably  an exaggeration to say that we had enough track to go throughout the house–but we certainly had enough to make the cars down the staircase!  My brothers were pros at making ramps and there was great excitement when the first loops came out.  This year Mattel has new Trick Tracks which has lots of the action we worked so hard to get with pillow and books beneath the tracks.  Somehow, the new tracks seem like a cheat (to a Hot Wheels purist).  We’ll have to see what kids today think! What’s missing from the current line is a track that has lots of length and maybe one or two loops.  The recent batch of closed tracks seem more like one trick ponies– they’re cool to watch but they don’t offer the problem solving that most of us remember from our Hot Wheels days.

This year is the 40th anniversary of Hot Wheels–there’s an anniversary that will make many of us pause.  Even more amazing–this year Mattel reports that they will produce the 4 billionth car!

Trends from Toyland: Soy Fiber in Toys

As part of the green trend, Aurora is introducing a new line of plush called Aurora Naturally. According to the company, these stuffed animals are made from 100% soy fiber — who knew? The stuffing is 100% Kapok (I didn’t know that kapok is a silky fiber known for its hypoallergenic softness). It’s also a sustainable rainforest crop–cool. We’re looking forward to testing this line.

When recycling was a huge trend in toyland (about 15 years ago) it translated into a lot of clever recycling trucks–but that was about it. We’re really looking forward to seeing how the industry responds in a more meaningful way by using greener or re-purposed materials as well as delivering the message in a way that is playful (as opposed to overly preachy).

My personal goal–to remember to bring all the bags I already purchased to the grocery store!

Trends from Toyland: Hasbro's Biscuit, My Lovin Pup

Most of the hype this holiday season will probably be for Hasbro’s high tech, interactive Kota (a 40″ triceratops). At toy fair, Kota looked pretty amazing– friendly and interactive in a playful way. There is another entry in the Furreal line that should not be overlooked. Biscuit is an over-sized golden retriever that also looks extremely promising. He can sit up, give you a paw, bark, sit down on his hind legs–really great if you can’t handle the real thing.  Apparently all the new york press commented on how great Biscuit would be for city dwellers—no need to walk or pick up after Biscuit.  Biscuit will retail for $150– so again, a big holiday gift.

Trends from Toyland: IToys ME2

We’re looking forward to trying out IToys new ME2 – a plug-in that encourages kids to move around. The more they move around in the real world with the hand-held ME2–the more award points they get for playing on line.  The ME2 has sensors that monitor movement. Of course we will need to have our testers weigh in on the games (kids create their own avatar to play on line).

The ME2 is part of a new (positive) trend in toyland.  Last year Fisher-Price introduced the Smart Cycle for preschoolers- a stationary bike that also requires kids to cycle in order to play the video games.   Parents that we talked to really like the idea of anything that gets kids up and moving– one of the reasons the Wii has been such a hit.  At least you know the kids are moving something besides their thumbs.

Trends in Toyland: K'NEX and Sesame Street

K’NEX is going to launch a new line of preschool sets that feature Sesame Street characters. Unlike traditional K’nex sets, these include more building “bricks” (you know like the other guys) – that will make the sets easier for young builders. They look like fun–we’ll look forward to trying them with our testers.

Trends for Toyland: New Geo Trax

Geo Trax (Fisher-Price) fans will be really happy with the new sets scheduled for later this year.  One includes an airplane that does a loop in the air (on special track).  You can add this “airplane” feature to your existing track. The plane is controlled by remote control–very cool as a center piece for this play environment.  Many of our five and six year old testers really prefer this set to traditional trains.  As sad as that makes me on some levels, it’s easy to see why–it is a fun setting that has lots of motion.  We look forward to testing this set!