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!
The new Dora the Explorer Dance Around Dora (from Fisher-Price) dances, twirls, dances on her toes and sings. She even encourages kids to dance with her–also fun. I’m usually not a huge fan of Dora dolls…a bit too plastic for us–but she’s such a huge hit with the preschool crowd, we always take a look. When Dora goes up on her toes–her body expands underneath. Now part of my job is to stick my finger where most kids might…so as her body returned to its original size, I put my finger in the space and sure enough, she pinched me! Not horribly–but something to be aware of. Watch the video.
I’m pretty old school when it comes to wooden trains. Having watch kids play with trains sets for a long time, they usually don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Several years ago (before all the lead issues), train makers were looking for ways to compete with all the electronic toys–so there were lots of trains with lights and sounds. They were ok, but truth be told if you have a child really in the train zone they provide their own scenarios and excitement. So I was pretty skeptical when Learning Curve announced voice recognition technology for their new set, Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway-The Great Discovery Set. I have to say–it is pretty amazing. Sir Topham Hatt greets the trains by name as they go through the station…how does he know? While one of our testers was amused (not amazed) with this aspect of the toy, what I loved was that he continued to play with the setting in a very traditional manner. The technology did not take over the play experience–it enhanced the play possibilities.
Trains are a wonderful puzzle–which is why I do not recommend gluing down tracks or being wed to a train table. Train tracks can take all different turns — I’ve also observed that 4 year olds are better at making train tracks work than most adults. Watch your child as they work out how to make the tracks connect–it’s really one of those moments to enjoy.
This 35 piece set comes with enough for making a figure eight, the Great Waterton Station, Morgan’s Mine, Thomas and Stanley. The trains and accessories are sold separately so you can them to your existing trains. The sound levels are set very high when you demo them in the box–the good news, you can turn down the volume. With BRIO all but gone from the US market–it’s nice to see Thomas the Tank back with all engines a go.
Last year we spent way too much time flying Spin Master’s little Havoc Helis around our office. We got pretty good at it too–so we’re pretty psyched that they have new flying machines! The Switchblade promises to take off like a UFO and transform in the air–into a hig powered aircraft. We’ll have to go outside for this one…field trip!
Part of LeapFrog’s new product line this year includes the Text & Learn that references the design of the adult BlackBerry. While there seems to be a lot of uproar about this latest grown-up device scaled down for the sandbox crowd, there’s really nothing very new about the concept. When fax machines were new (remember that?), Tyco had a really neat version for kids. The typical toy phone has gone through many variation that track the design and functions of the real thing. So it didn’t really seem that unusual to me that there would be a BlackBerry styled toy–given the adult dependence on their devices. In terms of play value, preschoolers love taking on grown up roles with literal props. Pretend kits for playing office, restaurant, firefighter, etc. are generally a huge hit with this age group. It’s developmentally right on target in terms of expanding their own sense of themselves in a larger community. Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean they need this particular electronic prop or any other. The proof will be in the game play – which is really hard to judge until we see a finished product and try it out with kids. There is another problem that every parent runs into at some point…even toddlers know the difference between your keys and some fake set of toy keys. Most kids will not accept the substitution! On the other hand, if this is a fun, easy to take along hand held device that has age appropriate content–it might be very appealing.
Move over Wii. LeapFrog is vying for that active plug in play experience for kids 3-5. Zippity is co-developed with Disney. While we haven’t tested it yet, we like the idea that kids are up and moving while playing games that require them to run, jump and hop on the play mat. Of course the big question will be the content. The price is $79.95 (comes with eight pre-loaded games)–additional games will be $24.99. Scheduled for a summer release.
I love this new collection of little robotic creatures from Innovation First. The Crab has both sound and light sensors so when you turn it on–it will respond to both and change direction. The Inchworm (my favorite in red) comes with a little remote control–that is easy and fun to operate. The Crab is $14.99 and the Inchworm is $19.99. They come in a see-thru domed package (also gifty and attractive). Kids will enjoy them–but we would also recommend them as the perfect office toy. When the stress of the financial news is getting you down, these little bugs are a fun diversion. We’re adding them to our Platinum Award list.
Last year everyone was talking about magnets. Everything from toddler toys to construction toys used magnets in some creative way. This year the buzz is all about “USB” capability.
Traditional toys like Hot Wheels, Barbies, Groovy Girls–now all will have an on-line component where play is just a USB cord away. Borrowing from the amazing successful Webkinz model, more and more companies are offering a toy that also “unlocks” a unique play experience on line. From the response of our toy testers, this seems like a smart move. School aged kids love collecting toys (stuff animals, cars, action figures) and this generation is tech savvy — so it’s a perfect combination. We will be testing these new products with kids in the coming weeks.
Leapfrog also offers the USB cord as a way of uploading/downloading info to their new platforms. Sprig Toys, a new line of vehicles will also work with action figures that hook up to a USB plug on board the vehicles. VTech’s new promising art platform, KiddiArt Studio, also uses a USB connection.
Several years back there were toys (mostly dolls) that required parents to “download” information to the toy (your child’s name, birthday, favorite color,etc.) …and we received many complaints that this took too much time and frankly was too complicated for less than tech savvy parents. Two things have changed–the iTunes interface has made the whole “download” thing much less overwhelming for parents. Things have changed: the toy/computer interface works better, parents are younger and more techy themselves, and for slightly older kids, they’ll be doing the plugging in–and let’s face it, they’re really good at it.
When we received Eye Clops (Jakks Pacific $49.99) during the summer, it was at the end of a very long day of toy testing. I know that sounds like fun, but after several hours of screening games with poor directions–it can get a little tired.
Anyway we plugged the Eye Clops into the tv and followed the suggestion to put the device (that magnifies up to 200X) up to fabric we had in the room–the sofa, a sweater, etc. — the fibers looked like something out of “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”…but the coolest and grossest thing we did was to try it out on our skin. The smoothest skin to the naked eye became a sea of scales–with some odd variations in coloring. Let’s just say I called the dermatologist the next day!
While kids are having such a great time finding new things to use the Eye Clops on–they are having a hands on science experience that’s fun and interactive! And because kids can see the results on a large tv, it really does allow younger kids to explore the concept of magnification that would usually happen much later in an intro lab situation.
Eye Clops received an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award. For more information visit www.toyportfolio.com.