Pick of the day: CitiBlocs Hot Colors and LEGO Pink Bricks

Here’s my semi-annual plea to buy building sets for girls. While I don’t really see the need to color code such building sets, if pink is what will do it for you or the girls in your life…go for it. You can buy CitiBlocs new Hot Colors set. LEGO also offers a bucket of pink bricks (read our review here).  If we want our girls to excel in math and on their standardized math tests…part of that comes from playing with blocks. Spatial relations, visual discrimination and other essential skills that are key to success in math, engineering and architecture all begin with being exposed to construction toys as kids.  Not to mention that such open-ended sets are great for developing your child’s sense of what can be.  For a full review of CitiBlocs, click here.

toyportfolio.com’s Top Green Toys for 2010

We’ve just posted our list of top green toys.  It’s a fun mix of beautifully crafted wooden toys from companies like Plan Toys,  Wonderworld, Citiblocs, Tegu and Schylling. As well as some plastic toys from recycled materials (Green Toys) and even a nod to a plastic lamp that you crank rather than load with batteries.   We even have two solar powered devices that will appeal to tween and teens.

What we passed on: scratchy organic dolls, dolls that got credit for being organic but were very muted, and in our opinion a little sad looking. We also passed on many solar activity kits that just didn’t work. Nothing like having a solar panel that just doesn’t feel like powering anything.

At the end of the day, I find any labels like Green or Educational to be only part of the story.  If the toy isn’t fun and engaging, it doesn’t matter what great list it should be on. Probably too many negatives there–but you get the point.  It doesn’t make the cut with us unless it’s also something that engages our testers.

17th Annual Today Show Toy Drive

A shout out to toy industry folks! The Toy Drive is looking for donations. Have inventory you’d like to write off…here’s a perfect opportunity to do some good at the same time!  According to the show’s press release: “Last holiday season, TODAY viewers, website visitors and corporate contributors teamed up to provide nearly $35 million worth of toys, books, games, clothing, toiletries, electronics, musical instruments, CDs, videos, cosmetics and other suitable gifts to more than five million children via 203 organizations in all 50 states. If you are interested in making a contribution, and all donations are appreciated, no matter how big or small, please call 212-664-7508 and talk to either Sam Sagenkahn or Kate Cook at the Toy Drive.”

Stephanie behind the scenes at the TODAY Show

Stephanie Oppenheim, Al Roker and Natalie Morales

This morning’s segment was about the toyportfolio.com’s BEST HIGH TECH TOYS for 2010, the complete list of products is on our site.   If you missed the segment from this morning you can watch it by clicking here.

This morning Joanne and I  were in the upstairs green room. Usually we have so many kids with us that we are in the larger downstairs green room.  As much as upstairs is very dignified, there’s usually a lot more action downstairs. I was down there for hair and make up. Rascal Flatts was getting ready.  I got to see Peter Krause out of the corner of one eye while getting mascara put on. Love his  show Parenthood!

The set seemed strange without my usual ten or twelve kids milling about but since I had a lot of high tech toys we decided to go without kids in the studio. We turned on all the bugs and many of the Hexbug Nanos jumped from their Battle Bridge and ended up on the floor. We had a fun collection of games, bugs, spiders,  a motion activated snake, Crayola Color Studio, and an assortment of video cameras include Barbie Video Girl that seemed to really disturb Al!  I see his point about the placement of Barbie’s camera (on a necklace–on her chest) but our kid testers really liked using this high tech version of Barbie.

Al taking a look at Barbie Video Camera

At the end we did a demo of the hot new KINECT for XBOX 360 from Microsoft.  I was planning on wearing a dress but I was told last night that the sensors might not read my legs in a dress.  There’s nothing like having to pick out an outfit where you know the camera is going to shoot you from behind (every woman’s dream).  So I decided to go Matrix-y – all in black with the highest heeled boots I own!  For the live tease Whitney (from Microsoft PR team) did a demo with me–she did great!  And thankfully Tim (my tech hero this morning) was making sure that the KINECT game was up and running.  Hard to play a game and talk about it as you’re playing I’ve discovered.

Al Roker and Stephanie Oppenheim playing KINECT

Usually after I do one of these segments I remember all the things I didn’t say.  This morning the list includes:  I didn’t mention that you need alot of space to play KINECT so it’s not great for really tiny apartments or dorm rooms.  You need to be about 8 feet back and you also need room to move side to side (or run the risk of really hitting your opponent!).  Als0 – most of the games that have come out for the holiday season are family and action oriented.  So if you’re more of a point/shoot XBOX 360 fan, there aren’t titles for you yet…but suspect they’ll be on their way.  I love playing Rallyball – it’s like Dodgeball but no one gets hurt!  While it’s true that you don’t need to use a controller to play KINECT you will need to know how to use one to set it up initially…(in otherwords, if you’re not comfortable with controllers…you’ll want to get someone who know what they’re doing).  The last thing I forgot to mention is that KINECT has facial recognition so that if you make your own Avatar and you turn it on–it will recognize you. How cool is that?  Also there is voice recognition as well (also pretty Jetson like if you ask me!).  That said…there is a learning curve for selecting games that can seem slow which seems kind of odd since the whole concept is so cutting edge.  Ok…now I’ve said it all!

Today Show tomorrow morning

I’ll be on NBC’s TODAY SHOW tomorrow morning (in the 9 o’clock hour)  to talk about our BEST HIGH TECH TOYS for 2010.

This year the run away categories: video camera and bugs!  I’ve decided to throw in an animotion snake – but it won’t stop moving!

To get a sneak peek at our list, visit www.toyportfolio.com.

Supporting Your Local Toy Store

While the big guys like Walmart, Toys R Us, and Target are having an all out price war, don’t forget your local mom & pop toy stores.  It’s true that  none of these stores can compete on price for mass market products–but that’s only part of the story.  Small toy stores tend to offer toys that are available only to the specialty market.  Some of our favorite toy companies have made the decision to stick with the independent toy stores rather than compete for shelf space in a big box store.  So there are toys here that you won’t find elsewhere.  The other major reason to shop in a small store is service.

When Joanne and I are going through toy fair, we always marvel at the toy buyers who not only have to look at all the new toys (which sounds fun, but gets physically draining after a day or two) –but they have to put their money on the line.  Most aren’t part of big chains but individual store owners that have come to know what works and what doesn’t.  They tend to really know their product line and since they want to build a relationship with their customers, will not push something just to move it out. That kind of relationship at retail is becoming a rare commodity.

So with that in mind, this Saturday ASTRA (the American Specialty Toy Retailers Association) is holding a nationwide Neighborhood Toy Store Day.  You can check on their website to see what special events your local toy store is hosting.  Sounds like fun.

Best Toys for Kids with ADHD 2010

Each year we look for toys that would be appropriate for kids with ADHD.  Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are all very well-meaning gift givers during the holiday season–but often the “dream” gift turns into a nightmare for kids with ADHD.  We have reposted our basic guidelines (to share with the whole family) as well as a list of toys to be enjoyed!

Watch your creations being built at TEGU

One of my new favorite construction sets comes from TEGU.  These are beautifully crafted wooden magnetic blocks. If I were going to buy a toy that I know everyone would play with if I put it out on the coffee table for the holidays–it would be these blocks.  (Except of course if you have very small kids in the house).

Starting today, you can challenge their builder to build something specific. Right now I’m watching them put together a Chilean Miner! Take a look and tweet in your own requests at TEGU.com

Read our review.