Barbie Nail Design Studio: Shortage of Refill Cartridges

There has been a lot of interest in the Barbie Nail Design Studio since we first reviewed it earlier in the season. Reports now that there are not enough refill cartridges to go around…not good.  For a demonstration of the machine, watch our video.

Clear the decks

Now that there are new toys to be enjoyed in your house, this is a good time of year to clear the decks of things your kids are done with. If you can do it with your kids all the better.  You’ll need a bag for the give-aways (younger family members, neighbors, charity) and one for throw away.

For some kids, putting old toys away can be too upsetting.  I once watched a three year old absolutely paralyze her high-powered attorney mom with a dispute about donating her crib mobile. If you’re in one of those power struggles with your kids, put the toys in a big box with their name on it. The toys will be put away for them–for another calmer day. You can also do the clean up without them–for some kids (and grown ups) this is the only way to do it.  A clean room with their new things front and center- may spark some “hey, what happpened to my….” but they quickly move on.  Obviously you don’t chuck their favorite huggable even though it looks completely chewed and gross…but chances are they won’t put up much of a fuss about the old sets of shape sorters that they have been done with for years.

Why does it matter? Having a clean, uncluttered play space allows kids to focus and be active thinkers and players.  An architect friend of mind once said, “if you have a good space to  work in, you can then go about your life– other wise you’re always navigating through the mess.” The same is true about play experiences–if you’re in a room that’s cluttered with junk, it’s hard to focus on any one prop for pretend or a wonderful new construction set.  Distractions are everywhere. If you have a child with ADHD this is particularly important to achieve for your child.

For toddlers who are terrific at the “let’s pull everything off the shelf” trick,   limit the choices of things they can explore at any given time.  If there are only three toys on a shelf that they can reach, chances are they will sit down and explore those toys.  Those quiet moments are the goal–and that’s where the value of play kicks in.  You can’t blame your two year old for pulling everything down–that becomes the game, not any of the wonderful things you have brought home.

So go for it….

At the Today Show

Some pics from just before our segment about Toys with Lasting Play Value…trying to keep the kids engaged and not too noisy while Ann, Al, Natalie, Lester and Jenna talk.  One of our toy testers Josie was about to take the stroller off the set–but came back after we strategically placed her mom right near Natalie ( just off camera).

During the segment…everyone is fully engaged with the toys!

Natalie Morales and Stephanie

Hooray!  Segment complete!

Santa Claus and I are done

So as I’m walking around the city today, I was feeling a little like Santa Claus.  At this point, we’re both done. I mean he still has some traveling to do–but you know for the most part–everything is good to go. The lists have been checked — twice.

I have to say, I’m a little blue–saying goodbye to yet another toy season.  But hopeful that we made great suggestions, that kids everywhere will be joyful…and of course, we will begin again ever so soon.

Happy Holidays!

Don't forget the screwdriver…

Remember many many of the toys this season require assembly at home.  My best advice…don’t wait until midnight to start.

If you’re buying a toy kitchen–you will also probably need an electric screwdriver…or power drill. Most kitchens do not come with pre-drilled holes.  Sounds crazy I  know…but if you’re not particularly handy this kind of assembly could make your head spin…especially at the 11th hour.

Thank you toy testers!'s toy tester Jake after the Today Show

One of the pleasures of my job is getting to know families from all over the country.  When we first started the toyportfolio we started with friends and family…but that quickly grew to families that we didn’t know–from all spots on the map…Alaska, California, Florida.  Long before facebook, I feel like we developed a wonderful network of both moms and dads that I know only through emails.  Over the course of our conversations, I quickly learn which families love games, hate puzzles, feel strongly about complicated instructions and dread noisy toys!   I even went through the angst of the college admissions process with one mom as both of our oldest kids were applying to schools!

Really great testing families take the process seriously (while having fun of course).  Last year we had a family leave New Jersey for Hong Kong…another to London.  I miss these families and their wonderful feedback. When Joanne and I go through toy fair, we often will discuss the kids that have particular interests–knowing we found a product that will probably be perfect for them to take a look at.

Some of our testers also have joined me for segments on the Today Show.  The Denny family has been doing this for several years–and they’re always up for some fun on the set–and do a great job passing time in the green room waiting and waiting…for the time to go up the stairs to studio 1A and play.

So it was with very mixed emotions that I learned that they were leaving the city — opting for more space in the suburbs.  I totally get it–and now it means they will be able to help me with more outdoor toy testing,  But I will miss seeing them!

Below is a picture of Betsy and her kids Jake and  Josie…her older daughter Annie (a seasoned toyportfolio tester) insisted on going to school instead of being on the Today Show.  As Betsy and her husband tried to convince her to change her mind…they laughed, realizing that their daughter had her priorities in order.

Denny Family outside of the Today Show

So happy trails to the Denny family…and a big thank you to all of our testers that provide such valuable feedback – and make our process unique and ultimately really valuable to other consumers looking for objective information about children’s products before they buy.

Happy Holidays!

Teaching Kids Math…What the Research Says

Interesting article in the New York Times this morning by Benedict Carey, Studying Young Minds, and How to Teach Them.

One of the reasons I went back to get my Masters in Psychology — and specifically to study the development of children and the issues of parenting– was to better understand how children learn.  During the ’90s there was an explosion of mis-information about how babies and toddlers can learn their abcs, math facts and a variety of foreign languages from toys that were covered with symbolic symbols (1,2,3, A,B,C)…and by being placed in front of baby videos that were going to make your child smarter.  Thankfully–the value of such “crib education” has been debunked.

The article today supports what we know about children–that by the time they are preschoolers they are at the starting point of making the leap between concrete knowledge (there are three oranges on the table) to more abstract symbols (3).  In fact I loved that the article points out that many children’s book incorrectly show a piece of pizza as representation of a triangle even though it has a rounded point.

There is a socio-economic gap at play here.  While many families, perhaps without even being aware of what they’re doing, have already introduced their kids to math concepts by playing early board games at home –  underprivileged kids often come to school without having had those early experiences.  But note that the experiences are just what we’ve been talking about–you can’t really understand “3” unless you’ve experienced it–whether it’s by counting the apples that go in the back at the grocery story–or building with blocks.  We learn best at this early stage through hands-on interactions.

As with anything in life, if you can make the experience fun and engaging–you are more likely to produce a child that wants more.  The article isn’t a call to drill kids on math facts once they hit pre-school—so don’t even think about taking out the flash cards!  It does underscore the importance of introducing math as part of the world we live in–it informs all aspects of our lives and we will be best serve by a generation that isn’t afraid of math.

There are so many wonderful math games to play with your preschoolers–  our site is full of them.

Getting Ready for Tomorrow

Today I ventured uptown…as much as I love all the Christmas lights, you really need to be ready to deal with the crowds that take over the city- especially in mid-town.  It’s fun and I enjoy watching the kids as they see the tree for the first time – or the amazing Christmas windows at Saks.  But having to get anywhere takes twice as long!

Mr. Robot is happy to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree

Here’s Mr. Robot enjoying the tree at Rockefeller Center.  I miss my mom today–getting ready for a segment during the holidays is always special–the tree, the lights, the energy of all the people–hearing so many different languages.  It’s always a pinch-able moment.  (Mom’s fine–just didn’t need to be in the crowds.)

Set up is an amazing juggling act executed with such grace and good spirits.  April, the set art director, never seems pushed even though tonight for example she had eight production segments to get ready for…and everything always looks great in the morning when she and the amazing crew at the show work their magic.

Here’s the view of the tree after set up…it is so pretty.

Rockefeller Center during the Holidays 2009

Today Show Tomorrow Morning at 9:36am

Just got back from set up — the studio was filled with so many segments…music…Colin Cowell wrapping things…where was he this morning when I couldn’t get a clean line on my wrapping paper!

I have so many great toys to talk about–too many as usual.  We get really attached around here to our award winners…we want to talk about ALL of them!  It’s nice when people are interested in what you’ve been working on all year.

The article for the segment tomorrow is already posted on our site…toys with lasting play value.