Polly Pocket and me

Remember that time in your life when everything really tiny is of great interest?  Polly Pocket plays to that childhood love of everything small. Of course I often hear from parents that they hate stepping on all those little pieces of Polly Pocket paraphernalia as much as stepping on Lego bricks.  One of the pleasures of my job is listening to kids play with these little settings…the banter of pretend play is priceless.  If you haven’t already-video tape these moments…do it soon.  It’s over before you know it.

When I first saw the Polly Pocket Roller Coaster at toy fair, I was intrigued. There are rarely track sets for girls.  So much to the surprise of my mother and all of our summer interns, I was pretty excited about this set.  It goes together pretty well (just don’t try to lift it, it falls apart). There is a fun crank that you use to send Polly up the track…and then she rolls down into the water (also fun).  Of course I wish the set had come with more than one Polly…but that’s true of most racing track sets that only come with one car.

This is clearly a one trick pony kind of toy…it’s a closed set (we have the same complaint with most of the current Matchbox sets)…with no ability to mix up the tracks in different configurations–but it is fun. There is water involved–so be prepared for some mess with this one.  To watch the video click here.

Note: we haven’t received our safety verification forms back on this product yet.

Automoblox Charity to Benefit Children with Autism

There are just a few days left…but here’s a really great product tied to an important cause.

here’s the press release:

Automoblox, May Institute, and the National Autism Center are proud to announce the launch of “Cars for Classrooms,” a unique summer charitable campaign created to donate innovative toy cars to schools working with children and adolescents with autism. Automoblox, the retro-modern, mix-and-match car design system, has won major awards for crafting a toy that incorporates creative problem solving, visual-spatial processing, and fine motor skills development into an ultra-cool play experience that appeals to kids of all ages and abilities.

With its “Cars for Classrooms” summer charitable campaign, Automoblox will donate one car to a school providing specialized educational services to children with autism for every car purchased at www.automoblox.com throughout the months of July and August 31, 2009. At the completion of the campaign, a list of schools that received Automoblox donations will be posted on each partner’s website. School selection will be managed by May Institute and the National Autism Center.

“Automoblox has always challenged the widespread trend of distraction and disposability in today’s toy market by fusing healthy, old-school play benefits into a unique design system, with a cool factor that speaks the current generation of kids,” says Joe Barrett, CEO of Automoblox Company. “We were thrilled to discover the developmental benefits our toys offer to special needs populations, especially children with autism. But this discovery left us with the problem of how to get these toys into the schools, which is why we’ve partnered with May Institute and the National Autism Center.”

Mr. Barrett continues, “Especially in this economy, when school resources are being continually stretched, we’re really excited to collaborate with these two nationally recognized organizations and our customers to help our toys reach the populations that need them the most.” FedEx will be donating their shipping services to deliver the cars to the schools.

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral healthcare services to individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The National Autism Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving children and adolescents with ASD by providing reliable information, promoting best practices, and offering comprehensive resources for families, practitioners and communities.

According to Alan Harchik, Ph.D., BCBA, Senior Vice President of Educational Services for May Institute, “Social interactions, communication, and applying simple concepts to more complex problems are particularly challenging for children with autism. These toys offer us another context and additional opportunities to work on these important skills.”

“It is a thrill to partner with Automoblox,” says Susan M. Wilczynski, Ph.D., BCBA, Executive Director of the National Autism Center. “The company’s ingenuity and generosity will be so greatly appreciated by schools serving those with autism across the country.” Dr. Wilczynski continues, “We have a shared vision of providing schools with toys that will enhance and build on the educational experience for children with autism.”

The “Cars for Classrooms” campaign will run through August 31, 2009. To participate in the campaign, visit www.automoblox.com to purchase a car or truck. Customers participating in the campaign will enter the code “donation” at online checkout.

About Automoblox

Combining the simplicity of warm, traditional wooden pieces, colorful translucent roofs and bright rubber tires, Automoblox offers an innovative play system that inspires creative thinking and many hours of educational fun for kids, young and old. Visit Automoblox online at www.automoblox.com.

About May Institute

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral healthcare services to individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury, mental illness, and behavioral healthcare needs. Headquartered in Randolph, Mass., the Institute also provides training and consultation services to professionals and organizations.

Since its founding over 50 years ago, May Institute has evolved into an award-winning national network that serves over 25,000 individuals and their families annually. The organization operates four schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities, and provides school consultations to 200 over public school systems each year. For more information, visit www.mayinstitute.org.

About National Autism Center

The National Autism Center is dedicated to serving children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) by providing reliable information, promoting best practices, and offering comprehensive resources for families, practitioners, and communities.

An advocate for evidence-based treatment approaches, the Center shares practical information with families on selecting effective interventions. The Center also conducts applied research as well as identifies training and service models for practitioners. Finally, the Center works to shape public policy concerning ASD and its treatment through the development and dissemination of national standards of practice.

For more information about the National Autism Center, call (877) 313-3833 or visit www.nationalautismcenter.org.

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

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: Blockity-Pop Dump Truck

From the new Stack’n Surprise Blocks Line by Fisher-Price.  I’m always being asked for the best new little vehicles for older babies and toddlers. This little yellow and blue dump truck is just right for this stage. It comes with two blocks that have little “faces” that pop up when placed on the truck. Good for rolling and exploring.

Hot Wheels Super Jump Raceway

The inital reaction to the kids that gave this raceway a test spin  was “this is going to be awesome” “I’m sure this is going to be Platinum”.   It is the latest in the one trick pony racing toys from Hot Wheels–closed tracks with a mechanism that sends cars speeding along.  My experience with these sets is that they are novelty toys–once you see the cars speeding along again and again…most kids are done with them in short order.  While some of them work really well and are fun…I grew up with more open ended Hot Wheels track sets…much like wooden train sets, they were open-ended puzzles that invited creativity through trial and error.  The goal in our house was always to make a really long track that would include the stair case.

As much as our testers were initially hyped, the excitement turned to frustration. The car (it comes with one…but will work with any Hot Wheel car) would not stay on the track.  I was also concerned that the pleasingly graphic cardboard city scape would not hold up. The instructions suggest you tape the cardboard together..but if you have to pack up the toy…you have to pull off the tape–that doesn’t usually end well. So sadly, we’ll have to pass on this one.

If you’re looking for a fun Hot Wheels set, we highly recommend the new Color Shifters Blaster set – featuring the color changing of the cars depending on what water (hot or cold) they are dipped in or sprayed with…either way LOTS of fun.

A Doll that Let's Girls Pretend to Breastfeed…Bebe Goton

take a look at a new doll from Spain…

“A Spanish toymaker known as Berjuan has developed a breast-feeding doll that comes with a special halter top its young “mothers” wear as they pretend to breast-feed their “babies.” The halter top has daisies that cover the little girls’ nipples and come undone just as easily as the flaps of a nursing bra would.”

Click below to read the entire story…


You guessed it, this won’t be an OTP winner.  Much like the Pregnancy Doll from Mattel in the early 90s, this is more role playing than any little girl needs.

Great States! Game

We got an email from a family that bought the Great States! Game from International Playthings…in large part because our award seal was on the package (always nice to hear). We were really concerned that the family had a whole host of issues with this board game. There was a mechanical problem with the timer (which was replaced by the company). But the family also brought to my attention some concerns about the accuracy of some of the questions.
So we asked the company to send us another set–we first reviewed the game in 2004 and thought it was possible that it had been changed. We found that out of the 400 question cards there were six that were not completely correct.

The question: Name the three states that board the Pacific Coast?  Answer: California, Oregon and Washington.  Obviously Alaska and Hawaii have been omitted.

Where’s Alcatraz? Answer: On a small island off the coast of California.  Not really, really in the Bay.

The question: Close your eyes and name 7 states that Border Canada. Answer: Correctly includes 13 states but excludes Alaska.

Question: Which is the most Northwestern state? Answer: Washington.  Again…we’d go with Alaska.

Most of the questions have to do with a starting point that players are only supposed to include the 48 contiguous states. We agree with the family that complained that these questions should be adjusted.

We still think, after some debate here, that this is an engaging game that helps teach and reinforce American Geography and trivia.

We hope the company will address the questions we’ve identified (the family also took issue with the color of some of the state birds).

Perhaps because I grew up with many maps on my wall and a Dad that loved chronicling all of our journeys in the family Atlas…I have always liked games that work on these skills in a way that’s fun, not mean.