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).

Bubbles, Bubbles…

I probably love two categories of toys the best…bubbles and things that glow in the dark.  Good news for me, since toy fair was chock full of toys that promised to glow in the dark (sadly, many don’t really glow the way you think they should).

But today, the topic is bubbles.

A little back story.  A little more than twenty years ago when I decided that corporate litigation was not going to be my life’s work…I came up with two ideas. One, was a company called “Earth Bubbles”.  I sat at my desk at White & Case sketching designs for the globe-shaped container.  But I also knew that a product as classic as bubbles needed something unique to grab market share.  So I decided that colored bubbles would be amazing!  Armed with various forms of tints– I went outside with my nieces (happy to play in their brand- spanking new white sneakers and spring clothes)….and you can probably write the rest.

After completely staining everything, being in a far amount of trouble with my brother and sister-in-law…I convinced my mother, who had already written two books on the topic of play, toys and child development…to start another business with me…and that is how the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio came to be.

So, you can now understand my interest in the new Crayola Washable Colored Bubbles.  How did they do it?  I was a little wary of the extensive warning instructions about quality and staining.  (Of course, as someone who used to draft and review such warnings for a linoleum flooring company, I understand the conversation that probably went into this extensive list of disclaimers).

As much as I wanted to really love these colored bubbles, they just don’t do it.

What you really need to know…

They’re not kidding when they say they are strictly an outdoor toy. The bubbles can stain a whole host of surfaces (basically anything inside your house is fair game).

Now for me that doesn’t really take them out of the running. Some things are messy and are still great fun outside.  But the bubbles here don’t really have that same “bubble-ish” lightness.

When you blow these bubbles, you get a lot of color. That’s satisfying,  but they don’t really float the same way. It’s kind of like the difference between floaters and sinkers when it comes to matzo balls. It feels as if the color weighs them down too much.  Sadly, this makes this product a disappointment.

Crayola Washable Colored Bubbles

You can take a look at our video.  We tried it again on a  wind filled day–but they still didn’t act like bubbles.  You’ll see in the video that the  bubbles stayed well-formed on the snow for a very long time and the color remained for days.  It did wash off the concrete step but the warning label indicates that you should stay clear of wood (a la your deck!).  I assume this also would mean to keep it away from outdoor furniture, stones, etc.

We were told at Crayola that it will come out clothes, but I wonder from my own experience how to get it off sneakers!

Crayola’s Color Wonder Metallics!

Crayola's New Color Wonder Metallics

I love Crayola’s Color Wonder. It’s really magical.  You take a clear pointed special marker on the special paper–and voila, color emerges. The markers also don’t stain.  All in all–a great product.  So we were really excited to get the new metallics –and they deliver.  (Some metallics are dull–these are really pretty and vibrant). Watch our video.

The Metallic set comes with five markers, 18 sheets of paper and stencils.

Pick of the Day: Crayola Story Studio

A classic just got better. If you buy a box of Crayola Crayons (48 crayons or more)…you’ll find a code for their new on-line Story Studio.  So for about $3.99, you can go on-line, upload pics of your kids (or anyone in your family) and make coloring book pages featuring that person.  A great project to do with your kids to give as gifts!

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!

One more thing about chalk…

Crayola Spira-Chalk Blaster

Crayola has a new Spira-Chalk BlasterYou can watch our video demonstration. It comes with five chunky pieces of sidewalk chalk and two spinner rings–that fit into the launcher. We loved the fact that the launcher does not require batteries and that it really does create a spiral design on the sidewalk. With the exception of one of our testers, we got positive feedback on this product.  (One tester found the release mechanism difficult to work–we think she got a dud.)   We wish that it came with two launchers so that two kids could use it as the same time…but for $15.99–it’s still a good add-on if sidewalk chalk is big in your neighborhood.

A little bit in love…

Crayola's new Model Magic Presto Dots

We just got the new Model Magic Presto Dots and I’m in love.  I do have to own up to really enjoying the original Model Magic.  It’s fun to work with and it doesn’t leave your hands oddly moist like other molding materials.  So with the Presto Dots you use the little blue tool to cut out some of the model magic. They suggest using wax paper but if you just use the inside of the model magic pouch–it also works.  When you press the blue tool against the form for your animal, the model magic comes out like a little marshmallow — very satisfying. That said–be careful that smaller children don’t mistake them for candy!  There is a sheep and a puppy kit–as well as a larger multi-pack (comes with two forms) – and more alien-like creatures.  The sets start at $9.99. Not a big deal, just fun.  For other craft kits, visit our site at www.toyportfolio.com.

3D Chalk…it’s back!

3D seems to be taking over our entertainment world–so why not toyland? This year Crayola has new 3D Activity Sets that feature Toy Story stencils. The set comes with one pair of 3D glasses,  16 sidewalk chalk sticks in a really fun palette of colors…as well as 5 sidewalk crayons and a how to booklet.   To me–this type of kit screams Spring Outdoor Fun.  We’ve been fans of these sets since they first came out.

A rose by any other name…

Old Names, But New Games. One of the trends for the fall is familiar names (Monopoly, Scrabble, Twister, etc.) being used with all new game play.

U Build Monopoly

The new U-Build Monopoly (Parker Brothers $19.99) looks like an interesting concept, you build the board – allowing you to control how long your game will take. But the traditional game board is completely gone.

Scrabble Flash Cubes

Scrabble Flash Cubes (Hasbro $29.99), one of the coolest games we saw at Toy Fair, has electronic cubes that you use to build words, again no board, no little tiles…no double or triple word points. If you’re a purist about Twister and love the smell and feel of that mat, you may feel sad about Twister Hoopla (Hasbro $19.99) -where your body becomes the mat. We’ll have to see how these test with kids and their parents.  All Available Fall 2010.

Brand new. We did find some new innovative games. Konexi (ZimZala Games $24.99) brings the fun of Jenga and word play together. Here you stack letters to create words-but watch out you don’t want the letters to come falling down. We loved the design and feel of this game – can’t wait to test with kids.

Konexi by ZimZala Games

We suggested that they could make one of games younger so that the age range of 10 plus could come down considerably.  Available Fall 2010.

An anti-technology theme. Appealing to parents that would like the playroom to be more “real” – we found even more organic and recycled products than last year.  A new approach  – classic toys that now require no batteries – saving money, another bonus.   We all grew up with Spin Art – one of my all time personal favorites!   Innovative for this year, Crayola will roll out  Crayola Color Twister Spin Art (Crayola $14.99) which uses an air pump to make the platform spin.  Watch our video.

Crayola Color Twister Spin Art

We only got to to see the prototype–but look forward to testing the real toy later this season. Available July 2010.

LEGO RACER with Air Pump

The same “air” technology is now being used to propel certain LEGO RACERS ($12.99/ Available now).

Pure Whimsy.

Sing-a-ma-jigs

Sing-a-ma-jigs (Mattel $12.99 each) may turn out to be one of the hottest toys of the season if the real things work as well as the prototypes.  Be sure to watch my video. Each of the dolls will chatter, sing and even harmonize together. To me they look like claymation characters come to life. We look forward to testing these as soon as they are ready.  First collection available May 2010/ more to come for the holidays.

Hexbug Nanos. You either loves these little bugs that come in test tubes…or they’ll  creep you out. I love them. Rolling out right now are habitats that you can put them in.  Our testers enjoyed the portability of these little bugs that go like crazy!  The bugs are each $9.99, the habitat starter set is $19.99. 

Hexbug Nanos in their Habitat

They are to me the tech answer to Zhu Zhu Hamsters. If you’re shopping for that hard to buy for tween, these will be an interesting novelty. Available Now.

May the Force be with you. As a complete Star Wars fan, it makes me so happy that there is a whole new generation falling in love with the saga– thanks to the Clone Wars cartoon.  For my LEGO builders, the Star Wars sets are always the number one request.

LEGO TIE Defender

LEGO has responded with many new models including the TIE Defender ($49.99). This is the Empire’s most advanced fighter, it comes with 304 pieces and includes two action figures. Available Now.

Star Wars Millenium Falcon

We also can’t wait to test, the Star Wars R/C Millennium Falcon (Hasbro $49.99/ Available Fall 2010) – watch our video; the Star Wars AT-AT (Hasbro $99.99/Available August 2010)- a pretty impressive play setting for your own battles against the Empire.

Star Wars AT-AT

It’s more than 2′ tall and 28″  long, comes with LED lights, sounds and phrases from the movie; the Star Wars General Grievous Lightsaber (Hasbro $34.99/Available August 2010) is fun to spin–with double lightsabers that come apart. The lights and sound effects will appeal to Star Wars fans young and old.  Watch our video.

All of these toys will be tested and full reviews will appear on www.toyportfolio.com

Related videos:

Our video of Sing-a-ma-jigs

Our video of General Grevious Lightsaber

Our video of the Crayola Color Twist Spin Art

Our video of the Star Wars Millenium Falcon

Toy Fair 2010: Crayola's new Spira-Chalk Blaster

Crayola Spira Chalk Blaster

Check out our video of Crayola’s new spinning chalk top…looks like fun and even more fun  to say if you pretend you are Tina Turner in Mad Max…Spira-Chalk Blaster!!!   Click here to watch our video.  Our review will be posted on our website, www.toyportfolio.com.  If you’re not in cold weather like we are here in New York City–and looking for a fun chalk set, we’d recommend their current 3D Chalk Sets.  With all of the cold weather we’ve had recently, the thought of being in a warm enough climate for chalk…sounds really good!

Thanks to Susan and Stacy for demonstrating the spinning top!