Toy Fair Preview: STEM TOYS 2014

Last year the buzz was STEM toys with an emphasis on construction toys. Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award-winning Goldie Blox even made its way to a Super Bowl commercial.

Now ThinkFun is launching ROBOT Turtles, a board game that promises to introduce young children (preschoolers) to programming. We haven’t played the game–but I love the idea of kids learning how to program rather than just spending so much time sucked into video games. ROBOT Turtles started on Kickstarter by inventor Dan Shapiro. The game is scheduled for release in June (retail $24.99).

ROBOT Turtles from THINKFUN

ROBOT Turtles from THINKFUN

Playful Socks and Mittens from Hooray Hoopla

socks from HoorayHooplaYou won’t find these animal-themed mittens or socks in the toy aisle, but they are wonderfully playful! We love the idea of kids having different animals on their feet that can speak to each other. We received a three pack of socks ($14.99) that included: Shark vs. Penguin, Lion vs. Tiger and T-Rex vs. Triceratops. There are also delicious booties for older babies and toddlers…Cat vs. Dog, Owl vs. Mouse, T-Rex vs. Triceratops. The booties are sooo soft – you’ll be jealous that they don’t come in your size!

 

The mittens (available in adult sizes), recently spotted on Anne Hathaway, are equally adorable. We wish they were lined with the same material as the booties. We received a pair with Frog vs. Fly. These do vsm-kids-frogfly-mittens-1come in adult sizes – proving that you don’t have to be a child to be super playful!

A fun company. Check out their website at www.hoorayhoopla.com

Calico Critters – A Classic that appeals to the iphone generation

Calico Critters were first launched in Japan way back in 1985. They arrived in North America  in 1993 and are currently distributed by International Playthings.  (They’re known in other countries as Sylvanian families). No matter the name, these small animal collections are enjoying a resurgence with the “iphone generation” of preschoolers and early school age kids.

Calico Critters Ice Cream Truck

Calico Critters Ice Cream Truck

Unless your heart is stone cold, you have to admit that Calico Critters are seriously cute. Even for a preschool generation that lives on fruit ninjas and can navigate youtube like pros, there’s something appealing to actually holding a Calico Critter in your hand.  Our testers also love that they come in families.  For kids that like to pretend in miniature (as opposed to whole body pretending) – Calico Critters will say whatever they want them to say.  There are no bells and whistles here – which is why they’re probably still so popular.

Here’s a link to our most recent reviews of their Border Collie FamilyIce Cream Truck, and Treehouse.

 

 

 

GROSS TOYS of 2013

One of the BIG  trends of 2013 is the return of gross in toyland. These toys are purposefully full of snot, gas, and overflowing toilets.  Here are the notable winners  in this dubious category.

Gooey Louie (Goliath Games) – He’s back.  The game play remains the same -  to “pick” a winner. If you pick the wrong piece out of his nose, his brain will pop out.

He's back - Gooey Louie

He’s back – Gooey Louie

 

2.  Doctor Dreadful Organ Grinder (Umagine/Spin Master)game play is to make zombie organs, infuse them with goop and bugs — and then eat them. Yum.

Doctor Dreadful Organ Grinder

Doctor Dreadful Organ Grinder

 

3. The Ugglys Electronic Pup Pet (Moose Toys) – A toy that lives up to its name. Purposefully ugly and even though this toy is mainly a head, this pup sounds like he swallowed a whoopee cushion.

The Ugglys Electronic Pup Pet has a serious gas problem

The Ugglys Electronic Pup Pet has a serious gas problem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Gross Science Lab (SmartLab) -Among the activities- create a mixture to make the included toy toilet (with flushing sound) overflow. Just hope it doesn’t spark an idea to do it for real!

Gross Science from SmartLab

Gross Science from SmartLab

For reviews of other (less gross) toys, visit www.toyportfolio.com.

Does anyone still need a teddy bear or baby doll?

The short answer is: of course they do.

So yesterday before our Today Show segment I went to say hi to the 20 plus kids that agreed to be “elves” in our toy test on the plaza. They were all really well behaved…and many totally tuned into their phones and ipads. If you have kids you know the drill and

Wobbly Carmel by Bunnies by the Bay

Wobbly Carmel by Bunnies by the Bay

even if you don’t…if you go out to a restaurant and look around…you see kids engaged with their screens. Makes you wonder about more traditional types of play and the toys that will engage this digital generation. While everyone is totally abuzz about today’s kids monopolizing their parents’ smartphones and tablets, the last generation was equally sucked into their handheld players. The notable difference is that while most kids did not get their first Gameboy until they hit the early school years, infants are now part of the swipe-generation.

From a developmental point of view, the answer to my question is a resounding yes. Especially for younger children, we know that they learn best from real life interactions. Language development comes from talking (not just swiping or zapping a fruit ninja). When kids play with their stuffed animals, dolls, castles, dollhouses and other pretend settings – they are at

Calin Naima by Corolle

Calin Naima by Corolle

the center of their play experience. Things happen at their command and as a result of their own imagination not something created or dictated by a toy designer.  Elmo and his friends are fine for novelty appeal…but they do not offer the same open-ended type of pretend play.

Mon Premier Calin by Corolle

Here’s what else you should know about yesterday. The teddy bears and dolls that we brought to the show (but sadly ran out of time to talk about) were loved by the kids. We planned on talking about the wonderful collection of multicultural Calin baby dolls from Corolle (there is also a boy in the collection), the delicious Teddy Bear and Dog from Bunnies by the Bay and the always popular Calico Critters from International Playthings.

Calico Critters by International Playthings

Calico Critters by International Playthings

These toys may seem old-fashioned or boring compared to their high-tech counterparts, but to kids all of these toys are new and able props to their pretend world. And we certainly need our kids to pretend, to dream, to imagine and not just watch a screen.

To read reviews about all  of these wonderful toys, please visit our site.

TODAY Show Toy Test with toyportfolio.com winners

Today Show Toy Test "Elves" with Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim

Today Show Toy Test “Elves” with Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim

We had a blast yesterday at the Today Show. The show asked that we put many of our Platinum Award winners of 2013 to the test with “elves” on the plaza. With huge candy canes and the Rockefeller Christmas Tree in the background (not to mention the North Pole like temperature!), it was the perfect backdrop for this holiday tradition.P1010476To read about all the toys featured, click here. To see all of our award winners in all categories visit www.toyportfolio.com.

To see the segment, click here.