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.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

TODAY show tomorrow…

Tomorrow I’ll be talking about Active Play- just in time for having the kids home for the summer.  It’s been great to get back to work. I’ve gotten many emails from our incredible core of toy testers…”so, what’s going on?”

Well, it’s been one of those times that you just keep moving. We have had two graduations, a prom,  a wedding and a stroke.  When you’re in a family business the good and bad that hits your family also colors your work day.  I’m happy to report (now collectively knock on a HUGE piece of wood) that my dad is doing very well. We have been going through the toys that always arrive by the cartons this time of year…but quietly.

The emotional roller coaster of graduating children getting ready for the next big chapters of their lives, seeing the family’s first grandchild get married  – all against the precarious backdrop of having a sick family member–it’s part of life. Sitting at LaGuardia Airport – getting ready to board and bursting into tears because my parents were unable to attend my son’s graduation….life. Filling up with happy tears the next day when my son received his diploma…life.  Watching the young woman I knew as a baby take her vows…life. Being the mom asking for one more “picture” to capture yet another moment you know is going all too quickly…life. My younger son’s outdoor graduation from high school was interrupted by a thunder and lightening storm…pretty much summed up how this month just didn’t go as I had planned.  But of course, that’s life too. You have to roll (or run) with what is — and not miss the joy of that moment because it’s not exactly how you envisioned it.  I thought I had already learned that lesson…but I certainly got a refresher course!

I’m proud of my family that we got through all of the scary and joyful moments with good grace and good humor.  We cleaned up well. Seeing my dad in his tux at my niece’s wedding surrounded by his grandchildren reminded me of how grateful I am to be a member of my family. Everyone stepped up.

So that’s where I’ve been.  Now back to work…

 

Super Fun Bowling Set from Step 2

One of the pins from Step 2's Pin Pals Bowling Set

The new Pin Pals Bowling Set from Step 2 may rank as the best toy bowling set we’ve ever tested. The reason? The clever wide-based design. The ten pins are a little bit wider than a normal toy bowling pin–making them that much easier for older toddlers and preschoolers to place into position by themselves.  With other sets, the pins often tip over when they’re being set up…where’s the fun in that?

Also because of their design, the pins can be stacked. This added a whole new dimension to setting the pins up in vertical arrangements!

One of testers at play!

Our tester stacking them up on his own

Our testers also love the funny faces on each of the pins.  If you’re of a certain age, some of the them will remind you of Mr. Bill from Saturday Night Live.

Watch our video.

Teeter Ball

When I saw this toy at Toy Fair, I was psyched. Little Tikes made a teeter toy years ago so I was happy to see it back in the line. I used to love teeter toys as a kid — it is a   toy that involved having a good friend. Someone that would not give you too rough a ride, calm it down if it was going too fast (clearly you can see that I had issues).  Rollercoasters were never my thing – a good teeter ball ride was as adventuresome as I got.  Lame, probably–but just how I’m wired.

I sent a sample of the new Teeter Ball to one of our go to tester families…they have two  boys, 6 and 3, and they like active play.  Last year they were big on water/sand toys–not afraid of water, dirt, mud, etc. either– my kind of family!

While the boys enjoyed the toy, their dad gave the toy low marks when it came to putting it together.  While he said you didn’t need a power drill, he had one and used it where screws were required.  The most challenging part was “attaching the yellow ring and the inflatable purple ball.”  He warned that this could pose a problem for people not comfortable putting things together.  I’m certainly in that category.  While I know that lots of people do have power drills and are far more handy than I am with putting things together, I really question from a consumer point of view why such effort and skill should be necessary for a toy.   I appreciate the cost-cutting opportunity that  at-home assembly provides, but I can’t imagine that such assembly engenders a great deal of good will.  For $69 it seems to me the toy should either come good to go or without a huge amount of effort.

Our family also noted that the toy did not hold the boys interest for long stretches of time. I think that’s true of most teeter toys–they’re the type of toy you run to on the playground…take a turn and then go onto the next activity.

So be forewarned, almost all of the big plastic toys we have received this year required a power drill and a certain comfort zone in reading complicated directions (and making inferences from the picture on the box).

I was happy to read that the older brother waited for his little brother to get back on his seat when he fell off …that’s a very good sign that while the toy may not be a home run, these boys already have a lovely relationship.

Our testers trying out Little Tikes new Teeter Ball

Backyard Discovery Jungle Gym Gets High Marks

Over the years we’ve testing many outdoor play systems.  They have become so expensive that you really want to be sure you’re making a wise investment.  This season we asked one of our testing families to try a set from Backyard Discovery — a mid-priced brand of wooden sets that is widely available.  They tried the Highlander – it comes with a 10′ wave slide, a rock wall, ladder, two belt swings, a two person glider, a picnic table and a four level fort with a covered porch.

What they loved:

The three levels to climb. (This trend for super high climbers makes us a little nervous. It certainly demands constant adult supervision).

The accessories.  The telescope, the steering wheel– all fun for pretend play!

Stability.  This is super important when kids are swinging high and on the glider.

Rock Wall. The kids really enjoyed this aspect of the set.

Slide. The wave slide is super sleek and slippery–our testers liked that it was super high.

Hardware. Heavy and looks like it will hold up well.

Swings and Glider.  A big hit…how high can you go?

Downside:

Swings and glider are a bit close for our parent testers’ taste.  Our mom suggested that another three inches between the swings would make crashes less likely (yikes).

The rock wall is awkwardly close to one side of the picnic table underneath–making it almost inaccessible for even a small child to get into the bench on that side.

Overall–this family gave the set high marks.  They noted that it took a professional installer 13 hours to put the whole thing together.

Safety First– please note that all backyard equipment needs to have safety material under and around it to help avoid serious injury if your child falls off the equipment.  For a complete list of the CPSC’s playground safety recommendations, click here.  Playground experts recommend that you have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand or pea gravel or safety tested rubber mats.  While this adds to the expense of your backyard playground, remember that 200,000 kids end up in the ER due to playground injuries…so buy the wood chips!

Hasbro’s Bop It! Bounce

Hasbro Games Bop it! Bounce

This just came in for testing and we’re eager to hear how kids react to it.  Our first round of testers thought it was a lot like bouncing a tennis ball on a racquet – except here there is a very loud voice keeping score.  Some of our more sly testers realized that they could “cheat” the machine by bouncing their hand on it a bunch of times.  This only came into play when thoughts of beating a sibling’s score came into play. Here’s the demo from toy fair so that you can see the action. Our first round of testers didn’t like the fact you couldn’t turn the voice off or down.

Zoom, Zoom! Creativity for Kid’s Cardboard Coupe and Cardboard Racer

Pretend play is really important to developing your child’s language skills and her imagination. Giving them props for pretend play can be as easy as a basket of your old clothes or some work supplies (post-its are always a favorite). Some kids like to pretend in the miniature (these are the kids that walk around with small action figures, animals, cars)…other kids LOVE using their whole bodies to act out their own scenarios.  These are the kids that rather be the superhero rather than play with a little plastic representation.

You know pretty quickly which kind of pretender you have in your house.

If whole body pretending is your child’s preference, take a look at two new craft kits from Creativity for Kids. There is the Cardboard Coupe (think love, peace and the VW Beetle) or the Cardboard Racer (bright red and ready to go really fast!).  Obviously you’ll have to help with putting this together–and the decorating will also be a joint project, but then you’ll have a car for your child to “ride” around in. We’re giving both cars an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award.

Snow Day!

Snowed in? Cranky?

Declare the day  a beach day. Have kids prepare a picnic–and picnic like food. Take out the beach towels.  While throwing on bathing suits can be fun, it’s even more fun over your pjs. Sometimes doing something really silly–can change the tone in your house.  Truth be told–often the parents need a reset button.

Behind the Scenes at the TODAY SHOW

The whole gang during the segment

The whole gang during the segment

I actually love doing segments with lots of kids. I think it adds to the energy of the piece – but I do have to say last night I had this momentary thought “eight babies!, really?!…what were you thinking!”

The kids had a  long wait until it was time to go into the studio–and one thing I’ve learned over the years, never show kids toys long before they go on air – especially when you’re talking about babies and toddlers. To expect them to be engaged with toys for more than 10 minutes in any given setting, just isn’t reasonable in real life, much less in a tv studio with so many people, lights and cameras around. So we had some other related toys for them to play with in their separate “green room”…but at a certain point, they all started moving about the lower concourse — to say this particular group of kids were cute, is an understatement.  The kids were all in what I call that “cupcake” stage where they are just full of pure joy.  (At least at that moment!)

Once we got to the set, I was happy.  The kids and their parents were engaged with all the toys we had selected.  (You can hear them throughout!)  Doing segments with Natalie is also fun because she’s  in the middle of this zone with her two sons…so she gets it.

This is a picture of Matthew (4 months old)…enjoying  hanging out on the Infantino Twist & Fold mat. Picture 10

And here’s a pic with Natalie after the segment is over….To watch the segment, click here.

Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim

Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim

Rocky the Talking Truck and Monty T-Rex Dance it Out!

Talking Truck dances with Roaring T-Rex….watch the video.

So after I got done video taping these guys, I went back to work in the other room.  But it turns out they didn’t need me to keep going…here are two photos taking about 20 minutes apart…they are quite able to entertain themselves…and move about! In the second photo it looks like Monty is leading a Congo line!

dancingtoysdancingtoy2