Behind the scenes at The Today Show

At the Today Show talking toys with Willie Geist and Steve Harvey

At the Today Show talking toys with Willie Geist and Steve Harvey

Last night I had odd dreams that were both a combination of Downton Abbey (I still feel so upset about the season’s ending)  and worrying that some of the prototypes (especially the last flying toy) wouldn’t work. By three in the morning I had Maggie Smith commenting on the series of spy toys we had on. Not the best night’s sleep.

Right before the segment with the Hot Wheel Car Maker

Right before the segment with the Hot Wheel Car Maker

This morning seemed very, very quiet. Maybe because it was soooo cold outside–it just seemed more laid back than usual. Since we were showing prototypes, there were no kids scheduled to be on the segment with me. That also made the green room less lively.  (Everyone did perk up when the Jeopardy teen champ came in.)  My mom, fresh back from her adventure through South America, was with me–which is always great. There was a guest there speaking about a 21 day cleanse. The whole idea made me hungry.

The segment was fun. You can watch it here. Willie Geist is fantastic and as a Dad with two young children, he’s totally in the toy zone. Steve Harvey was guest co-hosting today and was a total sport–trying out the Spy Net Lie Detector Toy from Jakks Pacific and flying one of the Atmospheres from Spin Master. Special thanks to Cara from LEGO and Rachel from Spin Master for coming in to make sure that they’re prototypes worked on camera. All the toys we showed today are featured on my blog posts from last week.

Love this picture because Steve is still playing with the toy!!

Love this picture because Steve is still playing with the toy!!



Educational Toys: boring?

I’ll be on the Today Show  next Tuesday, October 2nd, to kick off the Awards for 2012. We have a very full list this year with great choices for every age and every budget.

Our first focus of the season: Best Educational Toys.

The school year is in full swing and you may already be aware of where your kids are having trouble.

Our  mission:  Find games and toys that your children will enjoy…while at the same time reinforce skills they’ll need in school. If the product is boring, they do not make our list. After all, if a product is touted as being soooo good for you but no one wants to play it, what’s the point?

Tips to Keep in Mind:

Playful Math.  Playing with numbers goes a long way to making kids feel comfortable with math.  We found games that deliver big time without making anyone break out in a sweat.

I Can’t Do That! Learning how to work through frustration is also an important key of becoming a great student. When kids work on a construction set or craft kit with step-by-step instructions, it gives them a “fun” way to build on this all important skill. The trick is to find projects that are not too overwhelming.  Our advice: start small, build their sense of confidence. Bringing home the BIG kit may seem like you’re being the best parent, but it’s not necessarily the way to start.

Reading, Reading, Everywhere – We know that reading at the end of day with your kids is terrific, but don’t stop there. You can also “read” together when you play games or work on a kit together. Rather than speed through all the instructions, give your new reader the opportunity to read the next step. It may take some extra time, but it’s worth it.

Cooperation – Learning how to work in a group is also an important school skill (and life skill).  There are many new games on our list that promote cooperative play.  While we had some parents resist these games at first, their kids loved them!  (Maybe we should send some of these games to Congress.)

So tune in on Tuesday!

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 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,

Lego tester Dante and his mom Jill

Brianna really loved the wooden mower from Manhattan Toy.

LEGO FRIENDS – Friends or Big Love?

LEGO FRIENDS Olivia's House

There’s been a lot of controversy about the new LEGO FRIENDS line.  And we’ll be writing a lot more about that soon.  So far, we have gotten nothing but positive reviews for both the building aspect and the pretend play potential of these sets.   (We have however stayed away from the more gender-stereotyped sets such as the hair salon.)    You can read our review by clicking here.

But I did need to share the following….

I was very  interested to note how our girl builders became quickly invested in the names of each of the friends.  They quickly knew their names and which sets included which figures.  With the exception of maybe the Harry Potter or Star Wars LEGO sets, I’ve never really had this kind of conversation about the regular LEGO figures.

Then I got confused. The man with the beard?  Who could that be?  Why was this bearded play figure living with two female figures in Olivia’s House?  My toy testers just assumed he was a boy and that they were all just friends. After all the line is called LEGO FRIENDS. That made a certain amount of sense.

So maybe this was LEGO’s version of NBC’s hit comedy Friends? Was the bearded guy meant to be Ross?  Chandler?  I can’t really remember that any of them had a beard.  Anyway…then I thought maybe this is like HBO’s BIG LOVE.  I mean the two female figures look as grown up as the bearded man.

I called the folks at LEGO…and in case you were wondering, here’s the relationships of the figures in Olivia’s house.

The guy with the beard is Peter. He is Olivia’s FATHER.  The other female figure in the house is actually Peter’s wife, and Olivia’s mother, Anna.

I don’t know about you, but I feel much better now.

Hail to President Barbie

I was just reading posts about how most four year old girls are obsessed with being princesses. The Disney machine is back at work, pulling in another generation into the fairy tale of being swept away by love that conveniently also comes with a castle and jewels.  I’m all for pretend play…but this incredibly gender specific PINK scenario makes me pause.

So, here’s a sentence I never thought I would write…  Barbie has come to our rescue. That’s right, this morning, Mattel announced that Barbie will be running for president this year. Is she wearing huge hair and a Legally Blonde inspired Chanel suit, you betcha. But at least she’s running.

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.

This morning on the Today Show

It takes a village--right before we went on

I got there at 7:30 even though our segment isn’t until 9:38. There are a few teases that happen before the actual segment, but I like to be there so there’s plenty of time for hair and make-up! This morning was a great day to be in the Green Room.  I assumed that George Clooney and Hillary Swank would be in the upstairs Green Room–but much to the delight of the entire room they were both downstairs. When you hear George speak about humanitarian issues, you just get that he’s more than a great actor. He’s smart and uses his platform and celebrity in a way that should inspire all celebrities.  It’s just real.  Ok, so that’s my take on the thoughts and works of George Clooney …and now I can also say that the man is just incredibly handsome.   To top off the George Clooney experience–he was then hugged by Hillary Swank.  Stunning!  I don’t know either of these people, but they are polite and friendly to everyone that comes through the green room and the hallway.  Sam Rockwell was there as well to promote Conviction (Swank also stars)For trailer, click here. (I’m sure he was nice too–just didn’t get to see him but for a second).  It was a busy Green Room!

Cosmo's Bachelors getting ready to go on

Oh and I almost forget the Cosmo Bachelors! My niece (and assistant extraordinaire) Ali pointed out that they were there last year when we launched our list.  They all look so young to me!

We had so many kids this morning!

Two of my favorite testers (sister Kena & Dehlina) with their Dollie & Me dolls

Matthew and his mom Jessica

Lots of little boys running around the lower concourse before it was time to go up to the studio.  Some of our kids have been on the show before “when they were truly babies” as opposed to just active three and four year olds.

Harper, who did a good part of the my last segment with me, was joined by her little brother  Hannes today!  Alex (pictured with Al and me) was a pro on all things technical and did a great job demonstrating the Tron Zero Gravity RC.  A special thank you to Victor (Matthew’s Dad) for taking all the pictures during the segment!) and to James from Spinmaster –for expertly flying the Air Hogs RC Video Camera Helicopter (something that I would never try in a studio full of high-wattage lighting!).  All in all a good day!

Afterwards: Al Roker, Stephanie Oppenheim and toy tester Alex!

Hannes enjoying the Radio Flyer after we were done

When a hot toy is looking for a second act

A Zhu Zhu Pet ready for Battle

Zhu Zhu pets were so hot last holiday season, that getting them for national television gigs took more negotiations than you can imagine.  Having watched many a hot toy come and go,  it’s always interesting to see how toy companies try to keep the craze going. Cabbage Patch dolls, Furby, Elmo- they’ve all been there with varying degrees of success. So this year, the sweet and furry Zhu Zhu pets have gone into battle, literally.  The new Kung Zhu Battle Arena is the latest in their line.  Here the pets are now ready to enter the battle arena (sold separately) in varying levels of battle armor (sold separately).  Interesting most of our testers that were in on the Zhu Zhu pet craze last year really enjoyed making their own settings for their pets.  Battle toys are a recurring theme in toyland again (there are a whole host of tops and bugs that battle it out) – so we’ll have to see how the Zhu Zhu pets in their current aggressive form stack up.

If this toy is on your child’s list, know that the battle arena does not come with a pet. This seems unfortunate to us.  Also if you want the armor to cover the pets that is different from the tanks that goes over the armor.  In other words, there are many layers of defense that you will need to purchase if you’re going into this battle.

Watch our video demo

Baby GoGo and Baby Stella: two great baby dolls

Baby GoGo by Little Sib

If you’re about to bring home a new baby and you already have a preschooler at home, we recommend giving your new “big” sibling a doll of their own. Sometimes having their own baby doll can help them make the bridge from being only your baby to big brother or sister.   (Now truth be told, some kids want no part of babies–real or otherwise. My older son was absolutely stunned to learn that his new baby brother was not going away when our beloved baby nurse was leaving. Adam walked into my bedroom with polar bear in tow “he’s staying?”)

In any case, baby dolls are just right for role playing…you may hear many of your own favorite phrases being used (crack out the video cam for these moments if you can…trust me, you’ll be happy to have them on camera!)

Here are two favorites that have just come in.

Baby GoGo from a new company called Little Sib started by a grandma–who recognized the upside of providing older sibs with their own doll, baby bag, cloth diaper, etc.  The doll is gender neutral (if you agree with me that orange is a gender free color). Read our full review here.

And new from Manhattan Toy, a boy version of Baby Stella.  Our favorite aspect of this one…the pacifier that attaches with an embedded magnet. Baby Stella has been around for a couple of years, but this is the first boy version (clothes only)…not sure why they couldn’t of renamed him Steven or something…but still very sweet.

Baby Stella - boy version by Manhattan Toy

To see our VIDEO REVIEW click here.

A look at the latest in Operation

Shrek Operation

One of my favorite games when I was growing up was Operation.

The Original Operation

Something so pleasing about getting those little pieces out without the buzzer going off!  I’m not really sure how well I did it–but the game remains a fun hazy childhood memory.  It’s probably those memories that always make me perk up at Toy Fair when they unveil the new Operation games of the season. 

Toy Story 3 Operation

So far we’ve received both the Shrek and the Toy Story 3 Versions.  As my son Matthew pointed out this is not the first Shrek Operation — the folks at Hasbro confirmed that there was an earlier version to go with one of the first three movies.  There is also a Buzz Lightyear–you’ll notice that this is the first break from the usual image of one large body image stretched out (a la on an operation table).  You see all of Buzz Lightyear but now he’s in an action pose.  Probably not earth shattering news–but worth noting.  Each of these movie-based versions has you going after appropriately themed pieces accompanied by sound effects that go with their characters.

Watch our VIDEO REVIEW by clicking here.