Pick of the Day: Edushape Rollipop Starter Set

41dd7yon5fl_sl500_aa280_I’m often asked about the best toys for each age group. Without question one of our all time favorite toys for two year olds is the Rollipop. If you’ve spent any time with toddlers, you know they love to do the same thing over and over again. This ball drop provides a great opportunity to have that opportunity. You can talk about the colors of the balls as they drop them down–but you can also sit back and enjoy watching them making something happen. It’s very pleasing. There are also bigger sets…but this beginning tower is a good place to start. We prefer the slow pace of this set to competing ball runs that have balls pop up or out. The magic of making something happen is engaging all by itself!

Pick of the Day: Bright Beginnings Jiggle Brights

jigglebrightsIf you’re looking for a first huggable at a great price, check out the new Bright Beginnings Jiggle Brights from Russ Berrie. With a suggested retail of $10, you really can’t do better. They’re made with soft Velour in a bright engaging pattern and have all stitched features – making them a perfect choice for older babies and toddlers. Very sweet.

Gender Specific Building Sets: Calling all Girls!

51v06ftdzel_sl500_aa280_In the past you know we haven’t been too enthusiastic about gender specific building sets. In a perfect world girls and boys would be given gender free sets to explore and play with right from the start. Unfortunately, there is still a gender divide in construction toys. That said, we really like the new Pinklets- The Fairy Garden by Supertstructs (Waba Fun $39.95). Somehow the fairy theme is not as troubling as the construction sets of the 90s that focused on building malls and nurseries. I know I’ve written about this before but it is a subject close to my heart. The research indicates that kids that work with blocks and construction sets develop so many valuable skills: fine motor, problem solving, spatial relationships, visual discrimination, ability to work in sequence…you get the idea.

The moral: It is really important that boys and girls have opportunities to use both open-ended construction sets as well as model building where they are asked to follow directions. So if a pink building set makes this type of play more engaging for your child–go for it.

Pick of the Day: Fisher-Price Shake n Go Flyers

41rqr4cpqgl_sl500_aa280_I can’t even believe I missed these last year when they first came out since I am HUGE fan of the Shake n Go cars. These flyers are so much fun! To make them go, you shake the launcher (that also makes a lot of noise and light up)…and then you press the trigger. These things really do take off. Marked 3-7, but seriously these are really fun to use no matter how old you are. 3 and 4 year olds will need a lot of help getting the plane on the launcher but 5s and up will get it quickly and love it. If you have a 4 year old working on counting, the Shake n Go Cars ($14.99) are the best things going. Kids have to count to ten while they shake the car–and then the car takes off. When we tested them, we had the best time because the kids we tried them with were so excited that they kept skipping numerals. With the flyers, the more you shake the launcher, the further the plane will fly…how cool is that!? They retail for about $14.99.

Pick of the Day: K'nex Motorized Madness Ball Machine

For the ADVANCED builder, this Rube Goldberg inspired ball run is really amazing. Having watched one of our most trusted teen builders work on this project for over a month, this is not for a beginner. In fact, on several occasions I kept assuring our builder 51af2ausmel_ss400_2Daniel that he could throw in the towel–but he remained committed to getting it done. While he thought the directions could have used some clarity (and he ended up with some extra pieces), we were all delighted that he finished. The over-sized plastic balls (comes with five) travel up the 4 foot machine on a conveyor belt–and then they take one of two paths down…one is down a circular path of ramps and the other is on two swiveling ball catchers (our favorite part!). The suggested retail is $119–comes with over 2,000 pieces.

If you have younger kids at home, you’ll want to protect your builder’s project by putting this in a room that’s safe. We had one close encounter with a visiting toddler tester who though he should be able to climb on the structure….luckily his mother reacted quickly!

(As with any construction toy, the key for beginners is to start with smaller sets so that your child builds her sense of confidence before going to the next level. Here’ s a perfect example of less being more.) For all of our top-rated construction sets, please visit www.toyportfolio.com.

Barbie I Can Be…a TV Chef

51ilykgb-9l_sl500_aa280_As always Barbie is in touch with pop/cultural trends. In the past, she’s been a teacher, a vet, a pediatrician…but for this year–she’s aspiring to go with the glitz and glamour of hosting her own cooking show. Move over Rachel, Martha, Giada…there’s a new chef in town. Set ($24.99) comes with camera, demo table, lights, oven and refrigerator. Where’s the make up and hair stylist? We actually like this smart and savvy take on Barbie!

Our activity suggestion: have your young chefs tape their own cooking shows. While they’re having fun, they’ll also be researching a menu to cook (reading, planning)–do some measuring (math) in the process and practice their presentation skills. At the end of the day, you’ll have a snap shot of your school age kids that you’ll treasure.

The latest Elmo: Elmo Live!

41c1gxpv7hl_sl500_aa280_ We have a long history with Elmo. When my mother was doing the TODAY Show the year Tickle Me Elmo first arrived on the scene we were in the green room as Bryant Gumbel was examining Elmo. We could see him on the screen–he was making faces at Elmo — until he heard the giggle–and then Bryant just starting laughing. He played with Elmo at almost every break–helping to fuel the Tickle Me Elmo craze that year.

The same year we were also invited on the Maury Povich show. Nothing against the show, but it wasn’t our regular type of gig. We were assured it would be a very wholesome show–a cooking segment, gadgets and us. So we went. We should have been tipped off to the fact that we weren’t in Kansas anymore — when the green room had plastic chairs, a window opened up to a creepy air vent and signs warning guest to be considerate of each other. We then went to the bathroom where we found a young woman washing her hair in the sink (really).

We then went up to hair and make up where the hair person told me that my hair color was the worst ever (it was my own natural color) — such a confidence builder before you go on national television. I looked at my mother – not happy but we pressed on. We were taken back stage where they put the mics on you and we meet the guests for the cooking segment. Two women who had written a book called something like “How to Cook for Your Man so He Looks Good Naked”…at this point my mother and I were both laughing and horrified. How to ruin our reputation in five minutes–but we were mic’d — we couldn’t really back out. Did I mention that both women were wearing the equivalent of tube dresses?

Maury made a kind of off color remark about how Elmo vibrates. And oh yes, the woman who washed her hair in the bathroom–she got a close up as an audience member. She was happy.

So over the years–we have eagerly waited for the new version of Elmo. The original Tickle Me Elmo did so well because it was also a very huggable doll–you could make him giggle–but he could also just be Elmo. Most later versions of him (the latest included) do more tricks and therefore have harder bodies–reducing dramatically the huggability factor. There is the wow-wee how does he do that factor–but again it’s more about watching and short lived novelty. Our favorite Elmo of recent years–Elmo Goes Potty–he was right on target about the whole potty training experiences (accidents happen). Check Up Elmo was also very polite and engaging.

The current Elmo Live talks alot, tells stories, jokes—can put his arm up in the air (that’s pretty cute). Our two year old testers were a bit overwhelmed by him and moved on pretty quickly.

Pick of the Day: Ugly Dolls

41rrnq6ny1l_sl500_aa280_Ugly dolls continue to be a major hit with our toy testers-especially in that tween age group. Older kids that test for us–will also ask, “any new Ugly dolls?” At $19.99 for a 12″ doll, it’s a solid fun choice that appeals to both boys and girls (also a plus). We also recommend the Ugly Doll Card Game ($9.99) from Gamewright.

Ugliest Doll of the Year Award: Baby Alive Learns to Potty

51qcsvgyh8l_sl500_aa280_ We’ve held off given this award because you never know what can show up here, but it’s now official. We give the Baby Alive Learns to Potty Doll the creepy doll award. We’re big fans of Potty Dolls (an odd thing to have an expertise in I might add..but we do.) The photograph of her is actually more flattering than the doll. We love so many of the products coming out of Hasbro that we were surprised by the “little sister of Chucky” look of this doll. She comes with her own potty, diapers and food (and yes, she really does pee and poop). There are so many stunningly beautiful dolls this year–perhaps that’s why this one stands out so much as cartoonish.

Pick of the Day: Hexbug Micro Robotic Creatures

red-crab-front I love this new collection of little robotic creatures from Innovation First. The Crab has both sound and light sensors so when you turn it on–it will respond to both and change direction. The Inchworm (my favorite in red) comes with a little remote control–that is easy and fun to operate. The Crab is $14.99 and the Inchworm is $19.99. They come in a see-thru domed package (also gifty and attractive). Kids will enjoy them–but we would also recommend them as the perfect office toy. When the stress of the financial news is getting you down, these little bugs are a fun diversion. We’re adding them to our Platinum Award list.