One of the hardest categories to fill each year are small vehicles that are safe for the 3 and under crowd. Many parents just hope for the best and give their kids small Hot Wheels, Matchbox and wooden trains–the problem with them of course is that they do have small parts that are potentially dangerous. Playskool’s new Wheel Pals line is meant to answer that issue. The cars are small in scale – with everything safely anchored. Our testers loved the new Round About Railway. If you’re looking for a setting that your toddler will enjoy (and not sit on)…look no further. You put the train at the top of the setting and then your child can either hit the plunger (which activates the train sound)…or just push the train down the track. The vehicle moves slowly enough so that your toddler can track the vehicle, a plus. We thought the Railway works much better than the Fold ‘n Go Garage (we found that some of the ramps did not lock in sufficiently well).
I’m a big fan of Battleship. I used to sit next to my big brothers on the porch while they would play–and it was a really big deal when I finally got old enough to play a round. So when the new version came in this month–we were pretty excited. Unfortunately this vertical edition (where you are playing on opposite sides of the same vertical board) -doesn’t quite work as well as the original. Our testers loved it during a recent game day–but then they discovered that if you bump the board, the pieces fall out and then you’re really out of luck. We hope they find a way of securing the peg pieces more effectively.
I’ve discovered over the years – you either love or hate Play-Doh. I just had a really good time trying out the new Spaghetti Factory ($9.99)…It’s similar to the “hair” makers of the past. (If you haven’t played with Play Doh since you’re a kid–then you will have no idea what I’m talking about.) In both cases you fill the toy with Play-Doh and you press down on the mechanism and the Play-Doh comes out in long “spaghetti-shaped” strands. If you have a child with special needs and you’re working on building strength in your child’s hands–you may want to give this one a try. You’ll want to attach the pasta machine to the table surface for added stability.
The base has molds for making other shapes…my mother made a lot of ravioli and bow ties–but for me it all about pushing down the plunger and making the spaghetti come out.
Looking for a great project for a cold winter day? Try this 1,00o piece puzzle of our new President! Yes We Can!!! We were delighted that this puzzle was in the press bag from Hasbro. At $5.99–it’s a great value too.
Kota, the big triceratops from Playskool, is now offered at Target for $99….down from $299. Wow!
Listen up automakers—look what Tonka is suggesting! On the back of this gas pump is a plastic diagram of how you make ethanol. All energy proposals aside, the Tonka Li l Gas Pump ($19.99) is a great prop for pretend play. Comes with a shape sorter, a credit card, and three big chunky buttons to push (to select your preferred fuel choice). Works well with Hasbro’s new Tonka Scoot N Scoop 3 in 1 Ride On…but really you can use it with any ride on.
We’ve been bombarded with green marketing this year…some products are well meaning but have really heavy handed messages. With that in mind we looked for toys that represent a more planet friendly agenda in how they are manufactured, as well as toys that do deliver a message but in a child friendly way…Here are our favorites:
1. Parking Garage (Plan Toys)
2. Tonka Lil Gas Pump (Hasbro) – it shows how ethanol is made on the back of the pump.
3. Sprig Vehicles (Sprig)- new line of vehicles made from recycled materials.
4. Gator Golf (Hasbro)- The classic game is now made without batteries.
5. Indoor Gardening Kit (Green Toys)- made from repurposed materials.
6. Think Green Barbie – love that she’s joined this important cause…her motto…”Think Pink, Live Green”
7. National Geographic Kids Animals (International Playthings)- polar bears and snakes–oh my!
8. Cheekeyes Animals (Cheekeyes)- handsomely crafted line of wooden animals – perfect as props for blocks.
9. Recycling Truck (Playmobil)- a fun prop for pretend that reinforces what we all should be doing.
10. Eric Carle Brown Bear Floor Puzzle (Mudpuppy)- a friendly low key way of introducing kids to the creatures we share this planet with…without a heavy message.
It was bound to happen. Hasbro acquired Cranium this year—and as with most acquisitions the remaining slate of products gets smaller and smaller. (Zooreka, Balloon Lagoon, Conga and Family Fun Game among the causalities.) Many of our favorite games for the past few years designed specifically for preschoolers and early school age kids came from Cranium. The games were graphically pleasing, the game play was fun and decidedly age appropriate. The overall feeling of the company was so positive it was hard not to “catch” their enthusiasm for board games. Our yearly meeting with one of the founders often felt like we were with the Willy Wonka of toys. We’ll miss that whole team and hope that Hasbro supports the remaining Cranium games. They were truly a bright spot in the toy industry.
On the bright side there are two new Cranium games that have been introduced this year, Cranium Duck Duck 123 and Polar Bear ABC — both games we liked very much.
Hasbro’s new version of the classic, Don’t Wake Daddy, now features the Hulk. He reminds us more of the Friendly Green Giant actually! The game play remains the same. You have to push the button on the Hulk’s bed and hope that you don’t wake him- for if you do, he will pop up out of bed, much like a Jack in the Box. The tension of not knowing when it would happen always made me twitch–but hey, that’s just me. Most kids love the random, unknowing experience.
Testers also liked the addition of Spiderman and Friends to the game. The game is designed for 3 & up (older threes in our view would be more likely).
Most of the hype this holiday season will probably be for Hasbro’s high tech, interactive Kota (a 40″ triceratops). At toy fair, Kota looked pretty amazing– friendly and interactive in a playful way. There is another entry in the Furreal line that should not be overlooked. Biscuit is an over-sized golden retriever that also looks extremely promising. He can sit up, give you a paw, bark, sit down on his hind legs–really great if you can’t handle the real thing. Apparently all the new york press commented on how great Biscuit would be for city dwellers—no need to walk or pick up after Biscuit. Biscuit will retail for $150– so again, a big holiday gift.