LEGO Systems has a brand new Alien Mothership that offers builders a really unusual build. The addition of a new gear at the middle allows the center of the spaceship to spin. LEGO has also added an alien sound piece to the mix. Great fun! Watch our video.
For me it was clearly a combo of hating practicing asbestos litigation and my mother having a really great time writing about toys and play. I left her after a segment she did at the Today Show to go back to my office and thought–that just seems like a better way to spend the day. I’m always curious how other people find their way to the toy industry. It is a business — and not all warm and fuzzy as you might think–but still it is different.
So I started a series called Meet the Toymakers. This gave me an opportunity to find out how other people joined the ranks of toy industry insiders. And since most people seem to have a desire to also be in toys, I thought it would be interesting to hear how other people fulfilled their dreams.
This week- we have an interview with Robert Pasin of Radio Flyer. Unlike most of the people I’ve interviewed, Robert is third generation in his family’s toy business. That’s hard core and brings it’s own set of challenges even when you are in charge of an established and iconic American brand.
I also interview Chris and Will Haughey of TEGU. These brothers both left their Wall Street jobs to start TEGU. Besides making a lovely product (wooden blocks with built in magnets) they are also finding a way for their business to give back to the people of Honduras by creating jobs.
Both interviews are posted on our website at www.toyportfolio.com
Looking for an open-ended building set that is green and fun to play with on the coffee table? Check out the new sets of Citi Blocs. Read our review.
If you are a big Star Wars LEGO fan, you’ll be really excited to see the new sets scheduled for 2010. We asked LEGO’s Julie Stern to take us through the new sets so that you could take a look. Watch the video. You’ll hear both my mother Joanne and brother James (noted Tech expert and founder of jamesgames.com) on this video. We’re a noisy bunch.
On this second video you can see James’ reenactment of Hans Solo being taken away after being frozen in carbonite. It’s this attention to detail that we really appreciate. If you watch this video, you will have a glimpse into my childhood! You can also hear my mother in the background laughing.
Hilary Stout’s article in The New York Times, With New Toys, More Assembly Required , correctly points out what we’ve been observing and writing about for years. You need to be ready to roll up your sleeves, arm yourself with a screwdriver, sometimes a power drill — all to put a toy together. If you’re not particularly handy, we recommend that you enlist the assistance of the store or a relative that doesn’t break out in a cold sweat when confronted with complicated assembly instructions. And whatever you do, don’t start at midnight on Christmas Eve–it’s almost a surefire recipe for tears and spousal strife.
That said…the article then goes on to talk about LEGO sets with too many pieces. Here, we have to disagree. The beauty of LEGO sets is that there are sets for all builders…beginners to the most advanced. Most hard core LEGO fans will tell you that the company has made it too easy for builders with the new bagging technique. Rather than open the box and find several hundred pieces — the company now pre-sorts the builds. For LEGO builders of the past– this new approach has been labeled strictly for whimps! You can hear many a parent say “in my day, we had to go through each and every piece” after we walked five long miles from school.
One of the big messages we try to get out each year is to start at the beginning. If you are doing all of the building and your child is just watching you–you’ve brought home the wrong set. The idea of these sets and why they appeal to kids — is that they build a child’s sense of what they can accomplish. Learning how to read and follow step-by-step instructions is huge. Having the patience to stick with a project – that not everything is instantaneous – is an important life lesson.
It is no surprise to us that LEGO has continued to do well in these tough times and has maintained a strong presence in an otherwise shrinking and battered toy industry. They have maintained their core mission by giving kids fun kits to build, they’ve improved their directions and they have stayed current by bring in themes and licenses that are attractive to their target audience. The most sought after LEGO kits from our testers are in fact the smaller sets where kids can build a car or Star Wars vehicle and then play with it. It is that sense of accomplishment that makes them ask for more. The focus is on building self-esteem and confidence and having fun–not how many pieces you can handle.
We also know that building develops the following skills: visual discrimination, fine-motor, spatial relations, math, reading, ability to follow directions in sequence and problem solving skills. We want both our sons and daughters to be competitive in math and engineering – it begins with these hands-on experiences. So start small. It’s like my grandmother always used to say, don’t worry about the size, buy what fits.
For reviews of our top-rated construction toys–visit www.toyportfolio.com.
I got to catch a lot of tv this holiday weekend–and started to see the waves of toy tv commercials. Some reminded me of toys that did not win awards from us…and that we needed to post more reviews!!
When we first saw TRIO at toy fair we were all excited. We love open-ended building sets and really get psyched when a large toy company gets behind a new system–making the access to it more affordable. Unfortunately TRIO did not fare well with our testers. The product is marked for kids 3 and up – so we enlisted one of our hard core DUPLO builders–thinking this would be the most likely audience. He had the same trouble we did manipulating the pieces. Unlike DUPLO, it’s hard to pull the pieces apart. We then tried them with a four year old builder–and had the same reaction. We hope the folks at Fisher-Price work on the “pull” factor. The pieces are pleasing–but too frustrating for the intended audience. Our recommendation is to stick with a basic DUPLO bucket at this age.
When we started the toyportfolio I was pretty annoyed with all the pink building sets. They were all about building a mall or a pony stable– no skyscrapers, no superhero vehicles…just a very limited range of fantasy. We started the Gender Free Toy List in part to bring attention to this color coded approach to children’s play and toys. For the most part, I still stand by those early articles. There is no reason to limit girls or boys to the type of toys they play with. The Corolle Green Umbrella Stroller is on our list this year for a reason. And we have applauded Little Tikes and Step 2 for making gender free kitchens that are acceptable for both boys and girls. (When we started almost all toy kitchens were screaming pink.)
Today we just received the new Wedgits Pink & Purple Tote. Just like their primary sets, this is an open-ended construction toy that’s just fun.
It comes with a set of 48 design cards…that are abstract designs (no malls or ponies in sight). Each card tells the builder how many pieces they’ll need for the creation and then has a picture.
It’s just this type of experience with spatial relations that we want all of our kids to enjoy. The cards will give kids a jumping off point for exploring the set– but the truth is, just put this one out on the family coffee table and see what everyone builds. For a full review of the new Wedgits line, visit www.toyportfolio.com.