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.

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).

Pick of the Day: Karito Kids

Laura Rangel - CEO of KidsGive

Laura Rangel - CEO of KidsGive

Karito Kids from Kids Give is one of our favorite award-winning collections of multi-cultural dolls this year.  The collection has been updated and features a range of dolls from all over the world.  When I was growing up I had dolls from other lands — but these were all no-touching dolls. The ones meant to be put on a shelf and appreciated.  The only one that was able to play with was my London go-go girl.  She had hair like Marlo Thomas and she had white go-go boots just like mine.  Maybe she wasn’t meant to be played with either–but since I so rarely played with dolls, my mother never said a word.

I love that these dolls are meant to be enjoyed. Their clothes reflect modern girls from all over the world. The books that come with them aren’t my favorite…but it doesn’t take away that these dolls do help introduce girls to a more global view. Here’s my visit with founder Laura Rangel. The company also has a commitment to giving back to the communities where the dolls come from as well as new bracelets that are being made here in the USA by people with disabilities.

Reviews of the new dolls are all on our site at www.toyportfolio.com.

New Dolls from Karito Kids

Lilydolls: Quirky, Special and a little Pricey

Lilydolls from Manhattan Toy

Astrid, Josephine and Harper are the new Lilydolls from Manhattan Toy.  They all have stitched faces, velvet hair, quirky outfits and an old fashion folksy feel to them.  You’ll really either love them –or not. I didn’t really play with too many dolls as a kid–but I did have one from a folk art festival that kind of reminds me of the Lilydolls.  At $49 each – they aren’t just an impulse doll.

Harper of the Lilydolls

Strong Multi-Cultural Choices at Barbie

Barbie Basic

Happily there are more multi-cultural choices in the world of Barbie. I have a sense that the Barbie Basic line is more for adult collectors (all shown in a little black dress) than for kids…but there are a whole range of dolls available in this line. The dolls were part of a fun ebay auction when real designers came up with their own version’s of LBD for Barbie.

Here’s another grouping…

One of favorite collections from last year, So In Style Barbie,  is also continuing. Created by Mattel designer, Stacey McBride, these dolls celebrate our diversity by featuring dolls of color. You can see Ms. McBride talk about the series on this video. I love that she also made mentoring part of the line. The first sets all included a big doll and a little doll (big sister/little sister).  Bravo to Ms. McBride!  Below, some of this year’s new collection. I’ve been trying to interview Ms. McBride about the collection–I hope we get a chance to talk soon.

New So in Style Dolls from Mattel