London toys…

Probably an occupational habit, but I usually find myself in toy departments whenever I travel. Always hoping I may see something new or different.  Here are two that caught my attention…













And while these aren’t toys, I also really love the way the British do Easter candy!!

Did we learn nothing from Baby Einstein?

I was eager to read the front page New York Times piece on the use of digital technology in toyland by  Stephanie Clifford. In  Go Directly, Digtally to Jail? Classic Toys Learn New Tricks, Ms. Clifford reports on what we also saw as the major trend at toy fair.  It certainly felt like you weren’t in the running as a toy unless you had an APP counterpart. Classic brands including MonopolyHot Wheels and Barbie will not be left behind in the dust of APP hits like Angry Birds.

While the article gives a good overview of Toy Fair that ended on February 15th, it misses any inquiry as to the value of such toys for children. The only mention comes from a manufacturer who makes toys based on the internet hit, Moshi Monsters. We agree with Michael Acton Smith of Mind Candy who notes, “We don’t want a world where kids are just staring at a screen for their play constantly.”  The next question of course, is whether your child needs a plush or plastic representation of characters they enjoy on-line? Does such a real toy enhance their play experience or are they just a desperate play by the 21 billion dollar toy industry to stay in the game?  Other questions come to mind: Is the virtual game worth hours of your child’s time? Does your tech savvy four year old really need to drive a specially designed Hot Wheels on your iPad? How much time, if any,  should your 18 month old be on an electronic device?

Our concern is that such an article suggests to parents that this trend is the new toyland and designed for “technology-obsessed children.”  If you want to play the game of Life with your kids, you’ll now need an iPad at the center of the game board. While the piece does discuss the  income divide such expensive toys may produce, it misses any of the concerns raised by child development experts.

Unsettling for me, is that this type of reporting feels eerily like the early coverage of  baby videos (the Baby Einstein series being the biggest of them all).  The focus was on how popular they were becoming and how companies were making millions targeting this untapped market.  It was as if the press just accepted the marketing spin that these videos will make your child smarter. The take away for parents was that you better buy a full library of these DVDs if you wanted your child to get into college.  There was also a certain amount of fear built into these marketing messages.  Even those parents not sure of the their value, felt compelled to buy them just in case.  After all, who doesn’t want to give their baby every possible advantage. The videos, at under $20 a pop, were a very affordable  golden ticket to the ultimate of sentences: “My kid’s going to Harvard.”  Sadly, the coverage often lacked any  focus  on child development experts who were waving their arms to say that these videos were not beneficial.  No one wanted to hear that these very easy to pop-in videos could negatively impact young children.

We are relieved that the value of these videos has been debunked. Contrary to the brilliantly seductive marketing machine around these videos, parents now know that  their baby is not going to become fluent in four languages by watching the same video over and over again.  In fact, what the research has shown is that  screen time usually just gives kids an appetite for even more screen time. Our organization took a very unpopular position – we have never recommended videos for children under the age of 2. We were delighted when the American Academy of Pediatrics took the same position.

Barbie joins Mattel's new Apptivity Line

It’s really too early to tell how this new world of “blended” and “integrated” toy/digital experience will impact children, especially the very young. As these new toys start arriving for testing, we will have to look at them on a case by case basis. What is the content? Yes, your toddler can navigate a iPad like a pro, but how important is it? What other types of play are being discarded? One of our testing parents recently told me that when she took her kids to an indoor play center, the room was populated by kids sitting and playing with smartphones and tablets. There was serious bargaining going on to get the kids to unplug and play.

What we do know is that other types of screen time (whether it’s television, DVDs, video games)  can negatively impact children. We have a sense that these even smaller screens – that are ever so appealing to young and old –  will have similar issues.

As we wrote about earlier this month (Do kids really need toys to play with their APPs),  we worry about reducing playtime to smaller and smaller play areas. Yes, handing off your phone to your three year old will usually buy some  peace and quiet, but there also needs to be opportunities for kids to use their whole bodies to pretend. They should have art materials for expressing their creativity.  And by art materials – we mean the kind where you get your hands dirty. Playing with blocks helps develop math and visual discrimination skills.  And while we saw an APP for attaching to your child’s trampoline (no joking)…there is no APP that replaces physical activity for developing big muscles and coordination.  Finally, we also know that  very young children  learn best through interactive  experiences with other real people. Language development soars when babies and toddlers are engaged with other people talking, reading and singing with to them.

We welcome Ms. Clifford’s focus on this issue, but hope that going forward that the scope of inquiry will also address the value of this type of play.



Feeling like Spring

Razor USA's new Graffiti Action Scooter

The rain this morning made me hopeful that Spring can’t be that far away.  And for some reason…when I think Spring…I think scooters.  As I’m writing this I realize that many people probably don’t go directly to scooters…but hey, I play with toys.

I’m looking forward to testing the newest scooter from Razor USA…this one has a piece of chalk in the back. Wondering how it will work…without the chalk breaking. Last year they had a “spark” off the back end…something our testers enjoyed as a novelty.  Even though this has been given an edgy name, it’s called the Graffiti Action Scooter, this is a kinder and gentler scooter that  will probably appeal to a different audience.  Stay tuned.

Pick of the Day: General Greivous Spinning Electronic Lightsaber

My high school didn’t have a marching band and I was a debate geek anyway…but I still always marveled at those baton throwers when I would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  All this combined with my love of Star Wars probably explains my fascination with this new spinning light saber.

Watch my mother’s demo while we were waiting for an interview at ABC RADIO. She’s pretty good!

Read our complete review of this product at

Barbie Foosball Table for $25,000

Bonzini Babyfoot Barbie Foosball Table  - Bonzini -  Collectible Dolls - FAO Schwarz®On the one hand, this foosball table demonstrates how active Barbie can be. Look, she can block and kick that little ball down the field. She’s playing what has been a male dominated game.  That’s something. Yet, it just seems really wrong that these Barbies are armless – as if underscoring their lack of control in determining their own fate.  With a flick of a wrist, you can now send an entire line of Barbies upside down (hope they’re wearing proper underwear). For $25,000 I wonder if the toy comes with a hair stylist to do touch ups when the round is over!  Exclusively at FAO.  (Thanks to our one of our testing families for sending this to me!)Bonzini Babyfoot Barbie Foosball Table  - Bonzini -  Collectible Dolls - FAO Schwarz®

Pick of the Day: Sassy’s Bumpy Ball

A whole new bunch of toys arrived from Sassy just in time for our holiday list!  I love this activity ball–lots of aspects for babies to explore. Not only is this the perfect kind of floor toy to enjoy with your baby and toddler–it’s under $10- which just goes to show that you don’t have to spend a fortune on great toys.  Read our full review.

A toy in the age of terrorism

As I’m sitting here listening to the new terror threats, this toy was jogged from my memory. The new Security Scanner with Free Secret Agent Glasses is part of the spy line from Wild Planet. Your kids can practice airport security procedures.  Gone are the days I suppose when airport toys just meant toy airplanes. We haven’t tested this toy–and while the whole concept makes me incredibly sad, for some kids–role playing what happens at the airport may be comforting.  Security Scanner with Free Secret Agent Glasses

Pick of the Day: Hasbro’s Star Wars Imperial AT-AT

May the Force Be with You!

While we do have a general policy against toys that have aggressive themes and those that have projectile parts–each year we do bend the rules a bit for Star Wars. Why? Because I love Star Wars, it’s fantasy play, and at the end of the day good overcomes evil in the universe.  Part of the fun of going to Toy Fair each year is to see the new toys in this category. The best news is that because of the Clone Wars cartoon–there’s a whole new generation of kids that love Star Wars. So much of pop culture is generational – so it’s pretty special when a series is able to span several generations of followers. It also means there will be new Star Wars toys for years to come!

This new AT-AT from Hasbro is over two feet tall.

Star Wars Imperial AT-AT (from Hasbro)

It will provide young Star Wars fans with a pretend setting. It comes with a small vehicle and one storm trooper.  There are sound effects right from the movie–also very pleasing. There are projectiles that you should remove if you have young children at home so that no one aims at a little brother or sister (by accident, of course). For a complete review and shopping info, see our review. To watch our video, click here.

Rubik’s Cube in 10.31 seconds

How fast can you solve a Rubik's Cube?

Wanna feel slow?  Just got word that 15 year old Sergey Ryabko of Russia is now the European Rubik’s European Champion.  He beat out the Netherlands’ Erik Akkersdijk (10.38) and Germany’s relatively slow (just kidding!) Cornelius Dieckmann (10.78 seconds!). The championship was held in Budapest, Hungary with more than 250 cubers from 26 different countries.  The World Record is still held by Scotland’s  Breandan Vallance (8.31 seconds!!)

Erik Akkersdijk, Sergey Ryabko, Cornelius Dieckmann

They also have one handed Rubik Cube winners (Michal Pleskovitz of Poland) and blindfolded specialists (Rafal Guzewicz of Poland).  Who knew?!

I still have my old Rubik’s Cube..and I’m still working on it!