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.

toyportfolio.com Best Toys of 2012 on NBC’s TODAY Show

We had a fun segment on the Today Show talking about some of our Platinum Award winners. It’s always painful selecting the 10 toys to show (turns out we actually had 11!). As we pulled up to the show, Martin Freeman was already at the door – surrounded by photographers and people looking for autographs. I prayed that as my mother and I climbed out of the very high SUV we would not fall with all of those cameras so near by. We exited the car gracefully. You can watch the segment below.

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Before hand….

While I was getting hair and makeup done, I tweeted that there was a hobbit in the building. Just as I finished, Martin Freeman walked out of his dressing room behind me. I smiled. He returned my smile.  My grandmother always used to tell me “it doesn’t cost anything to smile” – he got the same lesson along the way. He was very friendly to everyone. Until I see The Hobbit next week, to me he is still Watson from the BBC Sherlock series. I’m a huge fan.

Martin Freeman visits the Today Show

We had lots of kids for this particular segment. They all were terrific while they waited for our time in the studio. In fact, we were brought upstairs and then the schedule got moved around a bit. They were amazingly well-behaved and calm as they waited even longer out in the hallway.  Here are some of their pics.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was the first time I was doing a segment with Willie Geist, the new host of the 9 o’clock hour. He’s great…and with two young kids, he’s in the toy zone.

Happily we got to talk about some of our favorite toys of the year from Fisher-Price, Wonderworld, Hasbro, North American Bear Co., LEGO, Playmobil, Marbles, The Brain Store, LeapFrog, Silverlit and Mattel. All of our Platinum Award winners are broken down by age with full reviews at www.toyportfolio.com.

After the segment, Willie took a picture with Joanne (who has been part of the WG fan club from his Morning Joe days).

It was a very good day…and I am forever grateful to my mother for taking a risk and starting the toyportfolio with me. She is the most generous mentor and business partner. Our adventure through toyland together is one of the great gifts of my life.

Willie Geist and Joanne Oppenheim at the TODAY Show

 

toyportfolio.com announces 2012 Best Toys on Today Show

I’ll be on the Today Show tomorrow morning, October 2nd, in the 9 o’clock hour to launch the toyportfolio.com’s 2012 list of best toys. Tomorrow’s focus will be on educational toys…but the entire list will appear on toyportfolio.com.

Always exciting to share another year’s results!   We will announce not only our Platinum Awards, but our Gold Seal, Blue Chip and SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Product) Awards as well.

Surprises of the year:

1. Pink Bricks. We never thought we’d recommend anything as gender specific as pink bricks…but our testers made us really consider our position. If the only way to get certain girls to build is with pink bricks, then do it. The benefits of building (fine motor skills, spatial and visual skills, math skills, following directions)  outweigh any gender stereotypes.

2. Apps in toyland – Most apps toys did not capture the attention of our testers. With some notable exceptions, our testers really just like their apps. Our parent testers also did not see the need to bring an ipad into the realm of boardgames. We agree. This may change with time, but our families liked that board game time was separate and apart from screen time.

3. Pirates and Princesses. Two traditional themes for pretend play are in full force this holiday season.

4. Move Over Elmo.  Grover 2.0 is poised to take over as the novelty doll of the year. Furby, you remember him, is also lurking and looking for a come back.

 

 

 

 

Little Tikes Big Digger Sandbox

The smile on our tester’s face, pretty much says it all.  We love this new sandbox from Little Tikes. It comes with the excavator, the dump truck and tools–all ready for lots of pretend possibilities.  The ramp also adds to the fun! The removable cover is also a plus for keeping the sand clean and neighborhood animals out! You’ll note that it’s not super big–so it can fit on a deck as our testers are using it.

Behind the scenes at the Today Show

We arrived to find an extremely busy and crowded green room.  The boy band, The Wanted, was there getting ready. I was told that Colton from American Idol was also there. Rosie was upstairs getting ready for The Professionals segment. (Hey, I’m a former lawyer-doesn’t that count?)  And yes, there  was the 40 pound cat – that was unfortunately sharing the curtained off area where our toy testers were gathered. Only problem, I’m super allergic.  So I stayed clear of the cat– who was really, really big!

Our testers started arriving. We had many today including twins (I got to hold Grace throughout most of the segment), sisters, brothers and best friends…all testers for the toyportfolio.

Today's Ann Curry with some of toy testers before our segment.

We headed upstairs to the studio for a “tease”–the part where they say “and coming up”….and you see the guest.  We were waiting in the hallway outside of the studio when Ann Curry came by and was really wonderful with the kids.  I’m not sure they really took in all that she was saying to them–but it was great advice about being proud of who you are, standing tall.  After she left we played some games to make the time fly.  Remember how hard waiting was when you were 9?

When we got into the studio, the older kids got busy with the science kit we brought from Kiwicrate.com and the building sets we had from Lego, Magformers, and LaserPegs.

Savannah Guthrie and Grace take a look at the games we brought along!

Many of our older toddlers and preschoolers found the Little Tikes Garden Discovery Center very interesting–each climbed in at one point!  Leaving the babies on the outside.  One of the babies got away–and found her way under the science toys.  I looked down while Savannah was asking me a question and lo and behold there was baby Grace with a piece of paper in her mouth. I removed the paper and scooped her up– and thankfully she was happy doing the rest of the segment with us! It was the first time I did a segment with Savannah– two former lawyers having fun with toys!  She was great and handled the controlled chaos with good humor! I’m also happy I had on my relatively high Jimmy Choo shoes.

After the segment, there’s always a mad dash to get out of the studio quickly!  Here are two of our happy testers  right after we were done.

To read our reviews and ratings, visit, www.toyportfolio.com

Lego tester Dante and his mom Jill

Brianna really loved the wooden mower from Manhattan Toy.

Spring showers bring…Spring Toys!

Seems like we’re getting all of “spring showers” today! New York City is chilly and wet.  Happy that our segment tomorrow on the Today Show will be indoors!  We have so many great new toys to share and there will be lots of kids on the set with me.  To get a sneak peek, read our article here on some of new favorite toys for spring 2012.  The focus tomorrow will be on active toys for older babies and toddlers, construction toys (for both girls and boys), games and science toys!

Classic Toys tomorrow on the Today Show: Take a Toy Inventory

While there is certainly room for novelty this time of year, it’s also important to bring home toys that have lasting play value. The toys that make the cut tend to be the classics–and often more open-ended. These toys place your child at the center of the play experience. So instead of dolls that do all the talking, dolls that say nothing will be enjoyed for a longer period of time because they will say whatever your child wants them to say!  (The doll to the left is from Corolle Doll’s Calin line). We’ll be talking balls,  blocks, trains, art supplies and games!

Take a toy inventory:

1. Does your child have a variety of playthings? Having a lot of one type of toy (whether it’s dolls or trucks) will often lead to a chorus of “I have nothing to play with.”

2. Gender Free- Is your child’s play experience only pink? only blue?  We want boys to know how to be nurturing parents–so dolls are an important part of role playing “dad”.  On the flip side, we want our daughters to excel in math– so blocks and construction toys should be part of their play world as well.

3. Art supplies - Encourage their creative side. With budgets being cut in many schools, kids have fewer opportunities for painting, using clay, and drawing. Whether it’s a juicy box of new Crayola crayons or an interesting set of watercolor pencils from Faber Castell or eeBoo– find a way to bring them back to the arts.

4. Games- One of the best ways to unplug your family is to play a game together. We have dozens of great suggestions on our list. Find a couple that become part of your family’s entertainment.  I’m personally really a fan of Connect Four Launchers and Joanne’s favorite is almost anything with letters. She’s a beast at Upwords.  (Never quite referred to my mother that way–but you know what I mean).

Getting Ready!

Halloween is fast approaching which for many means decorating, candy & costumes. For us, it signals that our season will soon be in full swing. Folks that usually think what we do is kind of silly–are now interested in what we found from our testing during the course of the year. We have a really full list of award winners this year that we look forward to talking about. We’ll be looking at the topic in all different kinds of ways –age, budget, high tech, low tech, green…you get the idea.  If you have particular question or list you’d love to have, let us know!

I’ve been spending more time on twitter lately–finding the format both challenging and interesting. You can join the discussion with me, my twitter name is toyportfolio.

 

 

Oppenheim Toy Porfolio Awards Announced Tomorrow!

Can’t wait to share our list from another year of testing! I’ll be on the Today Show tomorrow to show just a few of our winners. It’s always hard to select the first of our favorites to share.  Our list of Platinum Award winning toys this year is almost 125 products (depending on how you count) – so many outstanding choices for kids.  The list is a mix of classics, many with interesting new twists – and new innovative toys – all of which entertained and engaged our testers.  Tomorrow we also announce this year’s Gold Award winners, Blue Chip winners and SNAP Awards (toys for kids with special needs).  You’ll find a wonderful collection of books, audios and videos to consider as well.

Behind the scenes at the Today Show

A quiet moment before the segment...

So I have to say that I didn’t realize I was in the Green Room with the stars of the Boston Bruins when we first arrived. They had a separate camera crew shadowing them as well–so in fairness I was trying to stay out of the way. It’s a very small room. I’m pretty up-to-speed with most sports…just not hockey, sorry.

It wasn’t until I was coming up the stairs from getting my hair and make-up done and saw the Stanley Cup (it’s kind of hard to miss)…that I got it.   When I went back to the Green Room and asked my son Adam if he knew they had been in the same room with the Bruins…I realized almost immediately that I had set myself up for one of those “really, Mom?” looks.

While we were waiting outside the Green Room (to avoid the above-mentioned Bruins and crew), Ann Curry was great to stop, give me a hug.  I will miss doing segments with her but so happy that she is now co-anchor! People always ask me if she is as nice as she appears on tv. I think the answer is really more so.   She has that special gift of connecting with people and has done such an important job to spotlight the less fortunate all over the globe.

Everyone at play!

This is the first segment I did with Tamron Hall.  I love Tamron…I watch her all the time on MSNBC. I think she was a little daunted by the ten kids running around the set–but we got through the segment without incident!  To read the article about the toys featured, visit our site, www.toyportfolio.com.

You can also watch the segment below.

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