Backyard Discovery Jungle Gym Gets High Marks

Over the years we’ve testing many outdoor play systems.  They have become so expensive that you really want to be sure you’re making a wise investment.  This season we asked one of our testing families to try a set from Backyard Discovery — a mid-priced brand of wooden sets that is widely available.  They tried the Highlander – it comes with a 10′ wave slide, a rock wall, ladder, two belt swings, a two person glider, a picnic table and a four level fort with a covered porch.

What they loved:

The three levels to climb. (This trend for super high climbers makes us a little nervous. It certainly demands constant adult supervision).

The accessories.  The telescope, the steering wheel– all fun for pretend play!

Stability.  This is super important when kids are swinging high and on the glider.

Rock Wall. The kids really enjoyed this aspect of the set.

Slide. The wave slide is super sleek and slippery–our testers liked that it was super high.

Hardware. Heavy and looks like it will hold up well.

Swings and Glider.  A big hit…how high can you go?

Downside:

Swings and glider are a bit close for our parent testers’ taste.  Our mom suggested that another three inches between the swings would make crashes less likely (yikes).

The rock wall is awkwardly close to one side of the picnic table underneath–making it almost inaccessible for even a small child to get into the bench on that side.

Overall–this family gave the set high marks.  They noted that it took a professional installer 13 hours to put the whole thing together.

Safety First– please note that all backyard equipment needs to have safety material under and around it to help avoid serious injury if your child falls off the equipment.  For a complete list of the CPSC’s playground safety recommendations, click here.  Playground experts recommend that you have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand or pea gravel or safety tested rubber mats.  While this adds to the expense of your backyard playground, remember that 200,000 kids end up in the ER due to playground injuries…so buy the wood chips!

Project Natal now Project Kinect for Xbox 360

I wrote about Project Natal when we saw a preview of it during the winter.   From what I saw at the preview, it looked as if it was truly next generation gaming and would kick the Wii out of many a family room.  Say goodbye to controllers–the software helps you create your own avatar (of you–even down to your ponytail) and then you become the controller…yep, just kick or swing your hand and voila it happens on screen. Of course we haven’t tested it yet with kids–so we don’t know how all the games play out for kids, tween, teens and adults–but it looks really fun even if you’re a well-meaning, geeky, less than confident gamer over a certain age.

My brother James is at E3 where they now really rolling it out…keep up with all things E3 by reading his posts at jamesgames.com

The Phallic Form in Toys

LeapFrogs Learn & Groove Magic Wand

The Learn & Groove Magic Wand from LeapFrog isn’t the first toy with this form issue.  Each year there’s always a toy that sends us into 7th grade immaturity mode at toy fair.  At this point it’s really become an issue of who can maintain composure the longest while the toy demonstrator goes on and on about the toy without even a hint or wink about the toy’s shape.  All kidding aside,  it did make me wonder once again how these toys get through a group of designers, product managers,  and the all important focus groups (the “moms” we’re always told about) without anyone saying anything.   Not a word? Not a chuckle?  I just can’t believe that the media that comes through and tries not to laugh (we’re never good at that) is the first group  to say “hey, that kinda looks like a…”

I feel better having learned this morning that we weren’t the only group to mention the obvious.

Sing-a-ma-jigs- LOVE THEM

Fisher-Price's Sing-a-ma-jigs!

Take a look at our home page today at www.toyportfolio.com.  I’ve posted video of this fab four that just arrived!  I think we may have to have a running webcam for the sing-a-ma-jigs…Nice to know I can still get sooo excited about a toy after so many years of reviewing.  Hats off to the team at Fisher-Price.  I wonder if the group that was responsible for all of these playful Elmo dolls were redirected to this collection. (Elmo and the rest of his Sesame Street buddies will now be produced by Hasbro).

My mother just told me that she thinks the video I posted first makes them sound annoying–funny, it kind of reminded me of chorus rehearsal at my high school before a concert!

LeapFrog’s new line looks like fun!

We had a preview today of LeapFrog’s new toys for 2010.  I’ve seen many of them at an earlier showing (I think I may have blogged about having seen so many promising toys–but they were all embargoed).  I’m not big on keeping secrets so showing me toys I’m not allowed to write about for months really doesn’t work for me. Today I was assured that I could write about everything…

New for 2010, Leapster Explorer

Leapster Explorer

If you’re looking for a hand-held game console for younger kids, this will probably be the one to get.  We haven’t tested it yet–that said, it’s faster, the graphics are amazingly clear and bright–and the games are varied and interesting. The Leapster Explorer will retail for $69–and while your preschooler will probably still want to play with your iPhone, they will also be more than satisfied to play with the Explorer.  In the photo below you can see a demonstration of Sugar Bugs–where you are given the task of getting the sugar bugs out of the person’s teeth.  For some reason this really grossed out my mother when we saw it a few months ago–it doesn’t bother me too much–we’ll have to see how kids react. The company will continue the existing Leapster line (at a lower price point) and continue to bring out a few games a year to support it).  Some may be disappointed that the Explorer will not play your existing library of Leapster titles.

Demonstrating Sugar Bugs

What I did think was really promising was the on-line expanded experience of LeapWorld….it’s FREE (once you’ve purchased your Explorer)…and the content is not just more ABC drills…there’s lots of wonderful new concepts to explore — a weather app where you can set the temperature, the humidity, etc. and then see how your settings impact the weather on the little town.  Maybe because my older son was obsessed with the Weather Channel as a preschooler – this seems particularly fun. There are also educational games that aren’t about right or wrong–but exploring.  For example, there is a scale –and you can add more objects to each side to see which weighs more.   From what we saw today–there seems to be a happy revival of the what many refer to as the Golden Age of Children’s Software of the ’90s–where technology embraced educational games with innovation and creativity.  From a safety standpoint–this also has advantages since your child gets to LeapWorld by plugging in their Explorer to your PC–not by surfing the web. We sat so quietly during this presentation (we’re normally a noisy group) that one of our pr buddies thought we had already left the showroom.

Of course, our intention to behave and be relatively quiet was completely blown when we got to the new baby toys. There were many  interesting toys…pretend lap tops (with a blog and email feature) for two year olds, new drums, a new activity table…but then we all saw the following toy.  I don’t know why I always think I’m being punked –but today I was sure this was it.  So I decided to say nothing at first. I heard a little chuckle from my niece Ali (assistant extraordinaire) and my brother James was leaning an elbow into me in just that way that older brother can…and then I just lost it.   I looked around…was this a joke? (My mother was on deadline with another project so she wasn’t with us today – but truth be told I think she would have laughed as well–but she probably would have told us to behave ourselves!)

LeapFrog's Learn & Groove Magic Wand

Here’s the photo and you can watch the video.    

Ok, we got over it

I really liked this new interactive pot, called Potty, –that comes with veggies..my favorite part?…the lid says “open” and “closed’…this will be great fun for toddlers. Watch the video!

We also  saw more extensions on the TAG and TAG Jr. reading lines (both Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award winners).  More titles are promised for both and there will be an interactive USA and World Map to go with TAG that looked like fun for both kids and parents. While there were more licensed titles–we were assured that there would still be more classic storybooks in the growing collection of the TAG libraries– we hope so.

We look forward to testing the new products with kids — and I have a sense that the folks in toyland know that as a family, we take what we do very seriously, but with an appropriate sense of humor…

TAG Interactive World Map

Guidecraft’s Magneatos…revisited

We  received this update on Guidecraft’s Magneatos from one of our imaginative  testers!  In this picture he has created a garage with  Magneatos- one of our all time favorite open-ended building sets for preschoolers.  If you’re looking for something fun and not structured, we highly recommend these sets. For a full review of this Platinum Award winning toy, click here. Our suggestion, put one of these sets in a basket in your family room…building with them is really fun, no matter how old you are!  Because there is no right or wrong way to play with these over-sized colorful magnetized pieces–they are also a great choice for kids with ADHD.