Ecotronics Mr. Robot Head….fun in the dark

ecophotoI’m always looking for toys that work in the dark.  Maybe because when I was little we would go to FAO in NYC and then on the way home in the car, my brothers and I were always disappointed that we couldn’t enjoy our new toys in the backseat.

As a professional toy reviewer, I’m also amazed by the number of toys that say they’ll work in the dark, but don’t.

So that brings me to the wonderfully novel and silly Ecotronic Mr. Robot Head from International Playthings.  First, it’s red–an attribute that always does well here. We love red…so this deliciously red cube already had us smiling.  CRANK up the back (no batteries required–hence the name Ecotronics) and then touch the stylus to the top….

Crank Up the action on Mr. Robot Head

Crank Up the action on Mr. Robot Head

Watch our  video with the lights on.

Watch our video in the dark.

Read our full review at  ecofront

Great States! Game

We got an email from a family that bought the Great States! Game from International Playthings…in large part because our award seal was on the package (always nice to hear). We were really concerned that the family had a whole host of issues with this board game. There was a mechanical problem with the timer (which was replaced by the company). But the family also brought to my attention some concerns about the accuracy of some of the questions.
So we asked the company to send us another set–we first reviewed the game in 2004 and thought it was possible that it had been changed. We found that out of the 400 question cards there were six that were not completely correct.

The question: Name the three states that board the Pacific Coast?  Answer: California, Oregon and Washington.  Obviously Alaska and Hawaii have been omitted.

Where’s Alcatraz? Answer: On a small island off the coast of California.  Not really, really in the Bay.

The question: Close your eyes and name 7 states that Border Canada. Answer: Correctly includes 13 states but excludes Alaska.

Question: Which is the most Northwestern state? Answer: Washington.  Again…we’d go with Alaska.

Most of the questions have to do with a starting point that players are only supposed to include the 48 contiguous states. We agree with the family that complained that these questions should be adjusted.

We still think, after some debate here, that this is an engaging game that helps teach and reinforce American Geography and trivia.

We hope the company will address the questions we’ve identified (the family also took issue with the color of some of the state birds).

Perhaps because I grew up with many maps on my wall and a Dad that loved chronicling all of our journeys in the family Atlas…I have always liked games that work on these skills in a way that’s fun, not mean.

Sometimes rules are really hard…

Ok, so one of our rules about bath toys for kids is no squirters.  Yes, yes…squirters are really fun. But here’s the thing–if you don’t get all of the water out of them…and your child has taken a bath, it can pose a a problem.  (Maybe it’s a little OCD of us–but would you take a bath and then save some of the water, only to squirt it potentially in your mouth the next night?)   I guess if you really washed them out-and made sure they’re really, really empty and completely dry…

As a result, we’ve passed on lots of fun bath toys…ALEX entices us every year with new sets of squirters…and one of Corolle’s lines of dolls also come with these squirters.  We pass on them too. There is no government regulation–just our concern that used bathwater needs to go completely bye bye.

Which is why it completely pains us to pass on the new Gotz Maxy Aquini 16″ Bath Baby Doll. We love her sundress (really, I would wear it to the beach)…and her purple crocs are wonderfully hip.  Because we can’t crawl in the box and implore you throw out the froggy squirter (he’s pretty cute too)..we can’t give this doll an award–otherwise she’d be a clear winner. Really–look at her feet!


Best Outdoor Toys

I really love that we’re heading into summer with longer days – which means more time to be outside with our kids. Here are some of our new favorites for the season…we’ll be continuing to update this list in the coming weeks.


Nature Station Playhouse (Step 2)  I love this little playhouse that is designed for older toddlers and preschoolers – maybe because it looks like Pooh, Tigger and Piglet should be there too. Kids enjoy having small spaces that are designed just for them. This playhouse has a working periscope (really fun), a sink, a working shutter,  and a fenced in area so if you’re invited in- there’s a bigger space for adults. This product is pricey at $249.99 but will be used for a long stretch. (This playhouse  is marked 3 & up  due to all the extra things that come with it–but the structure itself will be enjoyed by younger children. There are larger play sets from Step 2 that have more height–our recommendation is take your kids along when you’re shopping for this type of equipment. If you decide to bring this product  home to older toddlers, put the goodies away until they’re older.)

Sandbox Vehicles Eco Trucks from Sprig Toys were a hit with our testers.  These are very lightweight – making them easy for kids to use and to take along to the park or backyard sand box. Made from recycled materials. Our favorite is the Dump Truck.

Dump Truck (Green Toys)  The new line of green trucks from Green Toys are heavier than the Sprig trucks. They feel more like a traditional plastic toy truck- with the upside here being that they are also made from recycled materials.   Handsomely designed – they got high marks from our testers.

Hot Wheels Color Shifters Blaster (Mattel) I’ve already blogged about this toy and I think I’m a little sad that I gave our sample away!  My mother doesn’t agree with my over the top enthusiasm for this play set–but I really think this is one of the best toys going.  I’m suggesting that it’s even better if you play with it outside–because truth be told-it does get alittle wet if you’re really playing with it full tilt.  The cars react to cold and hot water–and will turn a different color when put into either temperature (I KNOW!)  Best yet, it comes with a squirt bottle so you can change the cars by squirting them.  If you don’t want to buy the whole set–I’d suggest buying one of the cars–you can use any squirt bottle to have the same experience.  If you want to be the super cool grown up, bring this toy home to any three year old you know. I do think the car that turns from blue to yellow is much more dramatic than some of the other color changes (yellow/orange).


Drive, Chip and Putt Golf Trainer (Little Tikes) There are two different”ts’ to hit the golf ball from…making this a little different from your average plastic golf set.  Our testers really enjoyed the sport of this game and the sturdy design made it a solid choice for the 2-4 crowd.

d431ae4ea2e0258e5b58795242af18f9 Monster Badminton Set (International Playthings)  This set will be ready next month but I had to show it to you now.  These over-sized rackets and birdies are just what our family needed. They are fun for little kids–but truth be told, if you’re not the most athletic person–this is a set for you!  You’d be hard pressed to miss this birdie!  It does not come with a net–our toy testers just liked playing with it alone.


Maxi Scooter (Kickboard USA) Maybe because I’m not the most coordinated person, I loved the idea of this scooter.  It comes with three wheels and a wider platform for added stability but still  looks cool.  As I hoped, our new scooter testers had no trouble with this scooter and really enjoyed it. It comes with two handles–a traditional T-handle and a joystick.  We recommend the traditional handle as a starting point. It’s designed for kids 6-10.  The company now also makes a Mini Kick Scooter (smaller in scale for younger kids 2-5)…also with three wheels.  Helmets are a must!

Razor Spark Scooter (Razor) The granddaddy of scooters just got a very neat feature. When you break, it sparks out the back. Our testers thought this was pretty cool–although if you’re the one doing the braking, it is hard to see the spark–but your friends will!

Outdoor Treats

Freeze Pop Factory (Little Kids)  According to the company, more than 7 billion freeze pops are sold each year (makes you think we should all go into the freeze pop business!) ….in any case, this do-it-yourself kit is really fun. Comes with those pop sleeves (which magically close up and don’t leak) and plastic molds for making bigger pops.  You can experiment with making your own family recipes and limit the amount of sugar your kids use. Every grown-up I’ve mentioned this kit  to has asked the same question, “Could you make grown up freeze pop for a party?” and then they say…don’t say that out loud….but it’s true. Just don’t get them mixed up. It comes with 36 sleeves for making the pops…and the good news is that you can also order more ($4.95 for 50 including shipping) from the company’s site or by calling (800) 545-5437.

Top Rated Green Toys

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.

Are you listening? / Diggity Dog

diggity.jpgOne of our favorite games this year has to do with listening. Diggity Dog (International Playthings $19.99) asks players to listen to the number of times the big electronic dog barks – and then the player must move his game piece that many times. When you land on the space, your magnetized dog picks up a bone. If the color on the bone matches your dog, you keep the bone in your dog house. One of our parent testers loved that kids really had to concentrate and listen. The games involves simple counting and color concepts. The kids loved the sound effects! A good choice for kids 3 & up. For other award winning games visit