Open-ended building fun: Guidecraft’s Interlox

Guidecraft's Interlox

I’m big on things that you can put out on the family coffee table that everyone will enjoy.  Interlox from Guidecraft is just that kind of toy. If you were in a classroom in the 70s, you probably played with something that looked very similar.  The Interlox are pleasingly colorful plastic pieces that have notches on all sides- providing builders with an open-ended building opportunity.  They connect with relative ease- making this a good choice for 4s and up. While many kids are happy to follow directions for building LEGO or KNEX models, there’s something to be said about building whatever you heart dictates. There’s room here for trial and error.  For younger kids, this can start as a parent/child project–but chances are  your kids will be building independently before you know it. The 96 piece set gives you enough pieces to really make something fun.  We’re giving this set an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award. For the review of this toy and other building sets, visit www.toyportfolio.com.

3D Chalk…it’s back!

3D seems to be taking over our entertainment world–so why not toyland? This year Crayola has new 3D Activity Sets that feature Toy Story stencils. The set comes with one pair of 3D glasses,  16 sidewalk chalk sticks in a really fun palette of colors…as well as 5 sidewalk crayons and a how to booklet.   To me–this type of kit screams Spring Outdoor Fun.  We’ve been fans of these sets since they first came out.

LEGO CITY sets to the rescue

LEGO CITY FIRE BOAT

The CITY theme sets from LEGO are usually great fun to build. This year is no exception. While all things STAR WARS are big with the LEGO building crowd, we also recommend these more Earth-bound rescue heroes. The LEGO Fire Boat comes with 306 pieces–it has real heft to it and it floats!  (Whether a boat floats is always one of our standard questions at toy fair–you’d be surprise by the number of boats that don’t float.)

The large red boat has a moving ladder and several water hoses.  The set also includes a little yellow motorboat. Marked 5 -12.  Younger builders will need assistance with this one. There is also a very spiffy LEGO Fire Station.  Now while the Fire Boat seems big, the Fire Trucks and Station look a bit on the small size to us but the trucks and multi-level stations gives kids a lot to build.  Both would make great birthday presents.

New DUPLO sets: Horse Stables and Preschool Building Set

We just got two new DUPLO sets which are lovely for preschoolers. There is the new Horse Stable that comes with two horses, a stable you build, two vehicles (one is a horse trailer), two play figures.  There’s a lot of opportunities here for pretend play and a great introduction to building. This should be a parent/child toy to begin with as you put the set together and talk about the horses and what they need (hay, walking, taking a ride, etc.)

The other set is a basic building set called LEGO DUPLO Learning that includes big pieces that also have numbers on them.  Again a great chance to talk about numbers, colors  and other concepts right on target for preschoolers.  How high can you stack the pieces, how many can you fit on the vehicle?

Here’s the continuing problem we have with these otherwise great sets.  The age range is marked 2 & up and while all of the pieces fit current federal guidelines for small parts–many of the pieces are very, very close.  And if you use a toilet paper roll as the CPSC suggests consumers use if they do not have a choke tube, many of the pieces go straight through.  We discussed this issue last year and LEGO stands by their age range, see my earlier post and LEGO’s response.

Our point remains…since there is no educational or developmental advantage to  giving toddlers such small pieces–and the downside is so much greater, why take a chance?

So while we would highly recommend these sets for 3 & up, sadly we can not give them an award with the current age labels on the box.  And we will continue to lobby that LEGO either up the age label  to 3 & up or up the size of the pieces so that they are a better choice for 2′s.  Last year we were delighted when  Step 2 up sized their toy hot dogs for much the same reason. We hope LEGO will do the same.

I think it may be easier being green…

Happity Frog

when you are this amazingly cute and deliciously soft. Happity Frog from Mary Meyer is just one of the six new animals in this collection.   These are ideal for toddlers–they have stitched features for safety and easy-to-grasp limbs for take along fun.  The group has received an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award. It was impossible to select just one!

New Star Wars LEGO Sets – let the building begin

Star Wars LEGO sets are hugely popular with our toy testers in the 7-10 age range. As you know, we first build everything here to make sure that the directions are clear, that all the pieces are in the box…that it’s an enjoyable build. First up, Droid Tri-Fighter – with 268 pieces this is a good set for beginner to intermediate LEGO builders. The directions were very clear and the shape of the vehicle is very unusual.  Comes with little droid fighters. For reviews of all Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award winning construction sets, visit our website at www.toyportfolio.com

Encouraging kids to write: Creativity for Kids Create Your Own Bitty Books

Maybe because I grew up with my little Nutshell Library,

Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak

I’ve always been fond of little books. There’s something so pleasing about them-especially when you’re small. So when we first received the Create Your Own 3 Bitty Books from Creativity for Kids, I was psyched. The kit is beautifully made–each of the books is hardcover and comes with 12 pages,  kids can illustrate and/or use the pre-printed stickers to tell their own stories. The three little books come with their own holder. To watch our video discussion, click here.  To read reviews of this kit and other new craft kits, visit www.toyportfolio.com

Paris Hilton inspires a new trend in toyland

Paris Hilton with her doggie

My sense is that the current toy trend of little doggies in carrying cases is a Paris Hilton inspired concept — they are all over toyland this year.

One of the latest on the market combines the doggie carrier with an activity kit.

Designer Doggie from Creativity for Kids

It’s called  Designer Doggie (from Creativity for Kids) and comes under the heading of…you really, really don’t need to be a rocket scientist to do it.  Again, Ms. Hilton inspired?  That said some parents may think there isn’t enough to do. The kit comes with a little, very cute, very soft, white doggie that comes with her own travel case. There are peel-off felt stickers that are used to decorate the carrying case. Comes with a dog tag (you can personalize) and little pink bows for the doggies hair.  Is this complicated? No.  Is it a cute little kit that kids will enjoy decorating and then taking along? Absolutely!

Fun, Easy to Play Math Game- ThinkFun’s: Zingo 1-2-3!

Fans of Zingo! will be happy to know that there is a new version, Zingo! 1-2-3 that works on math skills.  The sliding mechanism of the original is still here – a big draw for our testers!  In this version, when you slide the mechanism new numbers appear.  If they match the numbers on your bingo-like card–you need to be the first one to call the number in order to claim it. Read our complete review at toyportfolio.com. This game is from ThinkFun.

Want to encourage your son to draw?

While I’m not big on generalizations, if you’ve been in a preschool class you’ll see girls taking their time when it’s time to draw–selecting their crayons  with a certain amount of care before they start.  Boys tend to go for the big strokes…covering the page seems to be the goal–and as quickly as possible.  There are exceptions on both sides–but over the years this has been my experience with preschoolers and drawing.

Both boys and girls will enjoy Creativity for Kids new Crayon Rubbings.  The set comes with five rubbing plates (each with a different design) that fit into the platform (that also has a place for standing up the eight included crayons). Kids add the paper to the top of the rubbing plates and can explore the different patterns they can make.  For quick drawers this will be satisfying all by itself…it’s almost magical the way the pattern emerges as you add the color.  For more advanced crayon users, you can use their pre-printed coloring sheets (think a coloring book page)…and here you can change out the rubbing plates to achieve different patterns throughout your drawing.

So if you’d like your child (boy or girl) to slow down a bit, explore the process of adding color and pattern–this is a fun toy to explore together.  For 3s and most 4s, this will be something to do together…talk about the process.  We had one tester that only wanted to use one rubbing sheet and fill it up…that’s fine too!  While some purists will not love the pre-printed sheets (we’re not big on coloring books as a rule), for many kids having a starting place gives them more security.  The blank page can be daunting–even when you’re three!

For kids with special needs this is a particular good product. The platform’s frame really holds the paper in place (you can add tape for added stability)…but the emerging patterns that they can achieve are really encouraging and satisfying for kids that can not draw more detailed images on their own.  We’re giving this one an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award and a Special Needs Adaptable Product Award.