In Defense of LEGO

Hilary Stout’s article in The New York Times,  With New Toys, More Assembly Required , correctly points out what we’ve been observing and writing about for years.  You need to be ready to roll up your sleeves, arm yourself with a screwdriver, sometimes a power drill — all to put a toy together.  If you’re not particularly handy, we  recommend that you enlist the assistance of the  store or a relative that doesn’t break out in a cold sweat when confronted with complicated assembly instructions.  And whatever you do, don’t start at midnight on Christmas Eve–it’s almost a surefire recipe for tears and spousal strife.

That said…the article then goes on to talk about LEGO sets with too many pieces.  Here, we have to disagree.  The beauty of LEGO sets is that there are sets for all builders…beginners to the most advanced.  Most hard core LEGO fans will tell you that the company has made it too easy for builders with the new bagging technique.  Rather than open the box and find several hundred pieces — the company now pre-sorts the builds.  For LEGO builders of the past– this new approach has been labeled strictly for whimps!  You can hear many a parent say “in my day, we had to go through each and every piece” after we walked five long miles from school.

One of the big messages we try to get out each year is to start at the beginning.  If you are doing all of the building and your child is just watching you–you’ve brought home the wrong set.  The idea of these sets and why they appeal to kids — is that they build a child’s sense of what they can accomplish.  Learning how to read and follow step-by-step instructions is huge.  Having the patience to stick with a project – that not everything is instantaneous – is an important life lesson.

It is no surprise to us that LEGO has continued to do well in these tough times and has maintained a strong presence in an otherwise  shrinking and battered  toy industry.  They have maintained their core mission by giving kids fun kits to build, they’ve improved their directions and they have stayed current by bring in themes and licenses that are attractive to their target audience. The most sought after LEGO kits from our testers are in fact the smaller sets where kids can build a car or Star Wars vehicle and then play with it.  It is that sense of accomplishment that makes them ask for more. The focus is on building self-esteem and confidence and having fun–not how many pieces you can handle.

We also know that building develops the following skills: visual discrimination,  fine-motor, spatial relations, math, reading, ability to follow directions in sequence and problem solving skills.   We want both our sons and daughters to be competitive in math and engineering – it begins with these hands-on experiences. So start small.  It’s like my grandmother always used to say, don’t worry about the size, buy what fits.

For  reviews of our top-rated construction toys–visit www.toyportfolio.com.

Pick of the Day: Les Deglingos

The weather is a little zany here in nyc…windy, oddly warm, sun, then no sun…in any case it made me think of the really playful collection of Les Deglingos.  Everyone that comes into our office reaches for them…they have a folk art feel–but are edgy all at the same time.  The mixture of textures are fun for little fingers to explore.  Read our full review.

Pick of the Day: Creativity for Kids Felt Fashions Messenger Bag

If you have a school aged girl on your list this holiday season, take a look at Creativity for Kids’ Felt Fashions Messenger Bag. Here’s an easy to do craft project that girls will enjoy both doing and using! The felt pieces are fun to design with – and easy enough for 7 and up- for a full review  and shopping info visit toyportfolio.com.

Doll Wars…the Naked Truth

There’s so much written about Barbie’s body…and the impact it has on girls. I thought it would be useful to compare her body (from the Barbie and the Three Musketeers theme) to that of the new Liv dolls (Spinmaster) and the Moxie Girlz (MGA Entertainment).

First we took a look at their feet.

From left to right: Moxie, Liv and Barbie

As you can see Moxie has pretty big flat feet.  Good for standing on but pretty clumsy looking. Liv also has flat feet and can actually stand in her sneakers (our testers loved this aspect).  Liv also has articulated toes–a very nice touch.  Barbie has….Barbie feet–she can’t stand in her bare feet–but then again she gets to wear purple boots.  I acknowledge my obsession with these particular boots.

Dolls sans Clothing

If you’ve every played with these fashion dolls and little kids, you know they usually end up without their clothes.  In part, kids are curious about what’s underneath –and because preschoolers now play with these dolls–they don’t have the fine-motor skills to put the clothes back on.  In fact, the dolls often end up without heads. I didn’t feel the need to do that here, but it happens.

From left to right: Barbie, Moxie Girlz, Liv

Size: You’ll note that Moxie (in the middle) is far smaller than either Barbie or Liv.

Age: Moxie Girlz clearly looks more like a middle schooler -rather than an older teen.  She is, as they named her much more girl like.

Limberness: Liv is the most limber– she has arms and legs that are jointed at the elbows and the knees.  Her head, hands, hips and feet also move. Barbie has one arm permanently at an angle. Only her arms, legs and head move (but not at the knees or elbows).  Barbie’s feet are in a frozen in a “yes, you may try the glass slipper pose”). Moxie Girlz– has both arms in a permanent straight position–they only move from her arm pits. Her legs from the hip — and you can move her head and big feet.

From Behind

From left to right: Moxie Girlz, Barbie, Liv

Realistic…not really unless you model for J.Crew. Our testers liked the underwear on the Moxie Girlz. Looking at this now–Barbie looks a little hippy…amazing.

Liv’s Head

Just so there are no surprise, Liv’s hair piece comes off and you’re left with a doll that has sculpted short hair.  We were a little taken aback by it, but our testers loved putting the hair on and off–she has a hole at the crown of her head.

Spinmaster's Liv Doll

Doll Wars…Barbie, Liv, Moxie Girlz and Princess Tiana Go Head to Head

I’ve spent a lot of time this season defending Barbie and her friends. Odd since I would never be caught dead playing with a Barbie as a kid.  But with my professional toy reviewer hat on…I dug really  deep…so here are the results of our testing this season.

Our Favorites:

Disney's Princess Tiana

1. Princess & The Frog Princess Tiana-  As the first African-American Disney Princess she is notable just by her existence, but we really like the Just One Kiss Doll…and the silliness of her gown lighting up.  Watch our video.

Liv Dolls from Spinmaster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Liv Dolls- Spinmaster’s new line of fashion dolls. At first I was a little freaked out by their heads (you can take off their wigs and replace with new ones!).  Underneath they have painted heads-very short. Think Annie Lenox–and then a little post chemo therapy.  Yes, it’s a little odd–but let me tell you the girls that played with these dolls loved the hairplay action of popping new hair on.  That’s right– the dolls’ have a hole in the top of their heads so the wigs really stay on.  They look like teenagers -something our early school year girls loved!  They don’t look like street walkers (a la Bratz). Read our full review.

3. Moxie Girlz Best Friends- New from MGA, the makers of Bratz.  Hats off to the toned down new collect of Moxie Girlz. They look somewhat related to the originals–think of the sixth grader who wants to look like the 11th grader but can’t pull it off exactly.

Moxie Girlz Best Friends from MGA Entertainment

They are sweeter looking–but they still wear a little fishnet (worked into their shirts instead of on their legs).  Our testers enjoyed this collection as well.  They come with ridiculously fun and silly big wigs that you strap on to the dolls head.  Our testers preferred the snap in feature of the Liv dolls on this point. Read our  full review.

4. Barbies of Note. We’re always big on Barbies that take an active role beyond going to the mall.  This year we have given awards to

Barbie and The Three Musketeers Doll

Barbie I Can Be…Pet Vet

Barbie I Can Be TV Chef

Personally, I love the Three Musketters because of her wickedly great purple boots…but our testers really loved playing vet and TV Chef!

Barbie and the Three Musketeers (Mattel)

ELMO…feeling a little left out

In seasons past, ELMO is the toy we get all the calls for -someone in desperate need for the latest version of the original Tickle Me Elmo Doll.  We have particular fondness for the original – Joanne brought Elmo on the TODAY Show – Bryant Gumbel loved it–and played with it for the entire show.

This season, ELMO is being completely ignored.  A smaller, perhaps cuter critter has grabbed the imagination of children and media outlets everywhere -even though ELMO  tells jokes this year as well as any Borscht Belt comedian. Oh and yes,  he’s  still throwing kisses…it could break your heart.  Watch our video.