Pick of the Day: Push Along Cat or Dog from ImagiPlay

At $14.95 each, these cute  wood cat and dogs–are just right for a safe and green toy for toddlers.  To read the full review, click here.  We love the cat, dog and the Hybrid Car…all from ImagiPlay.

Five Perfect Toys for Toddlers

Finding toys for toddlers can be super challenging! They’ve outgrown their baby toys–but not quite ready yet for more complex toys geared to preschoolers.  The toys need to match their new found mobility and desire to do things again and again!

Here are just five of my favorites:

Little People Load ‘n Go Wagon (Fisher-Price)

Step 2 Basic Rhythms Piano (Step 2)

Playskool Clipo Creativity Table (Playskool)

Schylling Color Roller (Schylling)

Rollipop Toddler Starter and Advanced Sets (Edushape)

The full reviews are on our site, www.toyportfolio.com.

Toyportfolio.com: Top Ten Toys for Babies and Toddlers Under $20

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Sassy Crib & Floor Mirror

With budgets tight, it’s important to bring home things that really count – and there is no reason to break the bank!  Here are some of our top picks for 2009 — all under $20.  Read the full reviews on our site.

Sassy Crib & Floor Mirror (Sassy)

Infantino Wall Mounted  Mobile Mirror (Step 2)

Stack ‘n Surprise Blocks Blockity-Pop Caterpillar (Fisher-Price)

Baby Deglingos Dog, Rabbit, Hedgehog or Cow (All New Materials)

Satin Ears Bear Security Cozy (North American Bear Co.)

Infantino Spiral Spin Top (Step 2)

Kids Preferred Nutbrown Hare or Peter Rabbit Hand Puppet (Kids Preferred)

Bright Starts Bees & Blooms Balls (Kids II)

Earlyears Zippy Zoomer (International Playthings)

Leapfrog Counting Candles (Leapfrog)

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

Today Show Tomorrow…

Tomorrow I’ll be talking about some of our award winning picks for babies and toddlers. Looking forward to sharing some of the really great products for these age groups.  We’ll be there with eight babies/toddlers! Should be lively!! The award winners are all featured on our Platinum List for this holiday season on our website, www.toyportfolio.com

Pick of the Day: Blockity-Pop Dump Truck

From the new Stack’n Surprise Blocks Line by Fisher-Price.  I’m always being asked for the best new little vehicles for older babies and toddlers. This little yellow and blue dump truck is just right for this stage. It comes with two blocks that have little “faces” that pop up when placed on the truck. Good for rolling and exploring.

Toy Safety: Small Parts in Toys Still a Concern

LEGO has been a consistent winner of our top Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award each year–often with multiple winners.  This year will be no exception–except in one category.

When we were at Toy Fair in February we were really excited to see a renewed commitment to the DUPLO line–designed for kids 2 & up. There were Fire Stations,  Trucks, Zoos…all great fun and we knew our preschool testers would love giving them a try.

Each set has arrived and while they are wonderful for 3s & up, we are concerned about the size of some of the pieces in these sets for kids under three. While most of the pieces are big and chunky, we found one or two pieces that caused concern. Let us be clear, all of the pieces meet current government guidelines.  Each of the pieces in question (see images below) extend outside of the “choke tube” and therefore are completely legal.  We wondered though–why make these pieces so close?  The CPSC recommends that parents use a toilet paper roller as a home test…all of these pieces fail under this test.

So we asked the team at LEGO whether there was a design or developmental advantage to having two year olds handle such small pieces and why the pieces were so close to the edge. Here is their response:

Thanks for your question about the DUPLO Zoo* item and some of the accessories it includes.  As you know, all LEGO products are rigorously tested and meet or exceed all safety regulations in the more than 130 countries where the products are sold.  Because the safety of children is our primary concern, we also have our own safety and testing standards that we layer on top of the regulated requirements.

We always make effort to have play imitate life, so the size of the suitcase is proportionate to the DUPLO figure.  We would not include an accessory that could potentially cause harm to a child or that does not pass the CPSC standard for small parts and age grading as regulated by the official choke tube test.  The accessory does not fit completely into the choke tube and use and abuse testing reveals that it also does not break into small parts that will fit completely in the tube.  While we understand the “home” test potential of the toilet paper tube, it is not a regulated means by which to measure safety as it has no bottom to mimic a real-life scenario.

*Since we asked this question about the DUPLO Zoo, we have received several other set that raise similar issues for us.

While we appreciate that the idea of scale is important–we’d side on the up-scaling or eliminating these items for this age range.  The working light piece on the top of the  truck (one of the coolest aspects of the garbage truck–and also in the fire station set) could have been attached to a bigger piece, the fireman’s ax could be attached to his  hand, the same with the pitchfork…you get the idea. The flower and the fish…just look so inviting.

All of these products would have been Platinum Award contenders if not for these small pieces.  We do recommend them for preschoolers–but unfortunately we don’t feel comfortable with the existing age label.  If you buy one of these sets and you have a child under three or a child who still mouths his toys…remove those pieces that concern you and you’ll be left with a engaging product.

We hope LEGO will remodel these “close” pieces.  Last year, after our concern over STEP 2′s hot dogs (that came with some of their kitchens)…the hot dogs were redesigned…so that the  hot dog is now encased  in a bun–making it a much wider and safer prop for play.

Below are some of the pieces, in our opinion, that are unnecessarily too close for comfort.  Again–completely within the law, but we see no reason for them to be this size.

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Pick of the Day: PushAlong Dog from ImagiPLAY

This friendly PushAlong Dog from ImagiPLAY is just right for toddlers that love have wheel toys but are not ready for cars that have small parts. He doesn’t make any sound–also a welcomed novelty these days!  There’s also a really cute yellow duck, greencar, and red cat in this line. All $14.99.

Our favorite dogs…

Now that Bo has happily arrived at the White House…here are some of favorite toy dogs just in case bringing home the real thing isn’t in the cards…

Biscuit was on our Platinum List last year and still keeps us company in the office.  He’s extremely sweet but still pretty pricey.

New for Spring, from the same Furreal line is a smaller and much more affordable Lil’ Patter Pup.  If  the Gabor sisters were going to have a  toy dog, this would be it…of course that dates me…so if you’re Paris Hilton…you get the idea. There is a Shih-Tsu and a Pomeranian…both bark and unlike Biscuit, they do walk!  At $29.99 they are  a good buy.

We also still love Lucky–who is bigger than Lil’ Patter Pup and does many of the same tricks as Biscuit. Lucky is from Zizzle.

And if a low tech pup will do the trick, we love the new Spot from Kids Preferred. This oversized delicious doll is $29.99.

And if you’re looking for a great book on dogs…I’m biased but I highly recommend my mom’s Have You Seen Dogs?

Pick of the Day: Fair Trade Joobles

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I just opened a box of Joobles…a really adorable collection of knit dolls (made of organic cotton) from Fair Indigo. Each doll is knitted (some with yarn hair)…and stitched features. This is now the third collection of fabric dolls we\’ve received this month that have such wit — a really good sign that there is still a great deal of talent and creativity out there in toy land.  (Apparently a lot coming from Peru! – the blabla collection is also made in Peru.) The Joobles are $29 each. They will appeal to both boys and girls- also a plus!  They will be  just right for toddlers that will love their squish factor and cheerful design. According to the company’s information, Joobles are made in a Peruvian co-op that also provides free breakfast to the children in their community.