Is your toddler addicted to your iPad & iPhone?

Today’s toddlers and preschoolers have a new addiction. Forget the boob tube and those pesky videos – now we’re talking about little fingers that are incredibly adept at navigating  APPS  on your pricey iPad and/or  iPhone.

What’s a toy maker to do? How can they compete with such amazing graphics?

Wasn’t it bad enough that video games have rob them of the tween market?

Here’s the industry response to date…

1. The “Can’t beat them, join them” approach.  It seems like everyone has an APP  for your child. Barbie, Leapfrog, Hot Wheels, Thinkfun….everywhere we went at Toy Fair…there was an APP we needed to “let our readers know about.” (Except of course for the dizzying number of embargo dates). And yes, we will have to start taking a closer look at all of these toy related APPs.  I haven’t gotten to play with it yet, but I do have to say that the Barbie Fashionista APP–looked really appealing (this coming from someone who really didn’t play with Barbies).

Barbie's Fashionista APP

2. “This is not your father’s iPad” – really. Toy makers are rolling out there own versions of iPad inspired tablets for your child.  LeapFrog and VTech will  go head to head with their platforms.  Are they cheaper? Yes.  Will your child be satisfied? Maybe.  As with any of these toys, they just don’t have the sizzle of the real thing (which is why toy companies are hedging their bets with approach #1.)  We will have to take a look at each of these products to review the content (remember that?) and whether the interface is pleasing.  I have a sense that if your toddler or preschooler is already schooled in your gadgets, this is going to be a hard transition.  On the other hand, if you start here–you may get to play with your gadget without the constant refrain of  “my turn!”

Vying for attention (all to be released later this year):

LeapFrog Explorer Tablet

LeapPad Explorer Tablet (LeapFrog)- Promises to come with a 5″ screen and leverages the library of games and content from this educational toy company.  It will also come with a built in camera. Suggested retail will be $99.99.

VTECH InnoPad

InnoPad (VTech) -Also features a 5″ touch screen, promises educational games, ebooks,  USB port, a headphone jack.  Suggested retail will be $79.99.

We’ll have to take a look. Sadly, both companies have moved away from partnerships with traditional publishers –leaving the ebook experience to the domain of mostly licensed materials. On this point alone, you may want to invest in a Color Nook–if you don’t want to go the bigger bucks on an iPad.  Technology only goes so far.  The CONTENT is still what should rule the day. We want our kids enjoy reading quality picture books no matter the format.  Disney Princesses and Scooby Doo are fun–but they shouldn’t replace children’s books as part of your child’s daily experience.

3. The “Ok, you can play,  but please don’t break it” approach. Handing  off  your  expensive toys to a toddler or preschooler is a balancing act between achieving calm (at the grocery store, at the restaurant, in the car, etc.) and the possible damage that came come to such gadgets from liquids (those pesky sippy cups) or a plain old “oops” moments. For those parents, Fisher-Price hopes to be of assistance with their new Laugh & Learn I Can Play Case that puts your smart phone into a bigger case with easy-to-grab handles. We look forward to trying this case–will little fingers find the case too intrusive? Of course your 3 year old will find this way too babyish.

Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn I Can Play Case

Toys that make me wonder…

Ever wonder how certain things get made whether it’s something to wear (in a hideous shade or impossible to wear shape) or a kitchen appliance you can’t imagine you’d ever use more than once-a la the Chickenborg Egg Cuber.

I often find myself asking this question in toyland.  It would be fun to sit in the design meetings (that perhaps were held during happy hour).  Now take that ridiculous design concept and imagine it’s been sold to the brand manager, the sales force, etc.   And then there are the retailers who also drink the kool aid and fill their  shelves with these products.  I then wonder if the design team that had a silly idea or I- can’t-believe- they’ll-go- for -it concept – has a good laugh.

Now one of these toys made our top Platinum Award list this year – I don’t necessarily mean they’re terrible products…I just wonder how they came to be. (Ok, for some, I do think they’re pretty dreadful.)

1. Cuponk – This wins as the ugliest designed toy we received. Much like playing quarters, the aim here is to get the eyeball into the container. 

Is it just me or does this just seem like great training for drinking games? And take a look at the images.  They’re not just ghoulish, they’re unpleasant and certainly not visuals that are important to the 8 and up set.

2. Fish with Removable Bone- I’m all for pretend play but this one just struck me as going a bit too far. I think our kids can pretend to fillet the fish. Of course this is a refreshing and healthier choice than the countless number of plastic hot dogs and french fries we receive every year.

3. Barbie Video Girl- This product is on our Platinum List…but we still would have loved to have been in the meeting where they decided to place the camera in the middle of Barbie’s chest. I’m just saying.  In fact, I’ve spent way too long discussing where they could have placed it instead.

Barbie Video Girl

A possible solution that won the most votes–Barbie could have been holding a video camera rather than being the video camera.  I see it–but I also appreciate the design elegance of having it where it is (on her “necklace”).  If you want to talk pure silliness, the Barbie Glitterizer, where Barbie is put into a chamber and sprayed with glitter, wins hands down in my book.

4. Detainee Kit- If your child is saying “Mommy when I grow up I want to be a TSA employee”, then I guess this set makes sense!  Complete with a body scanner and handcuffs…you’re child is ready for post 9/11 cops and robbers. The set also comes with a lie detector and evidence kit. Now that I’ve pointed out the obvious “wow, really” factor of this kit- I should point out that some kids will really love this kind of role playing…and enjoy the realistic props. For others role playing with the security wand may make the real life airport security experience a little less scary. It just makes me sad.

5.WWE Accessories. On the other hand if your child aspires to be a WWE champion, why not strap on the championship belt now, right? Complete with sounds effects (to me it sounds like Charo!).

6.Flatsy- Here’s how this meeting probably went. “What if it looks like you drove over your child’s doll with the mini-van?” “Yeah!”  “Cool!”   Truth be told, I kind of like the absolute silliness of the design-although I can already hear well-meaning body image advocates raising issues about what kind of dangerous role model these dolls present to young girls.

7.Learn & Groove Musical Wand.   Really? No comment.

Pick of the Day: LeapFrog Tag Interactive United States Map

I was an absolute map and globe geek as a kid.  Thanks to my Dad’s love of maps, we each got our own atlas when we reached a certain age (I think I was nine).  As with his atlas, we were encouraged to keep a record of our travels in our atlas.  Yep–we got to add our “lines” as we called them directly onto our maps!  It was very exciting to see new lines on our state, USA, and world maps as I got older. I know that this new interactive map would have been brought home as something to explore together!  Read our complete review!

LeapFrog’s new line looks like fun!

We had a preview today of LeapFrog’s new toys for 2010.  I’ve seen many of them at an earlier showing (I think I may have blogged about having seen so many promising toys–but they were all embargoed).  I’m not big on keeping secrets so showing me toys I’m not allowed to write about for months really doesn’t work for me. Today I was assured that I could write about everything…

New for 2010, Leapster Explorer

Leapster Explorer

If you’re looking for a hand-held game console for younger kids, this will probably be the one to get.  We haven’t tested it yet–that said, it’s faster, the graphics are amazingly clear and bright–and the games are varied and interesting. The Leapster Explorer will retail for $69–and while your preschooler will probably still want to play with your iPhone, they will also be more than satisfied to play with the Explorer.  In the photo below you can see a demonstration of Sugar Bugs–where you are given the task of getting the sugar bugs out of the person’s teeth.  For some reason this really grossed out my mother when we saw it a few months ago–it doesn’t bother me too much–we’ll have to see how kids react. The company will continue the existing Leapster line (at a lower price point) and continue to bring out a few games a year to support it).  Some may be disappointed that the Explorer will not play your existing library of Leapster titles.

Demonstrating Sugar Bugs

What I did think was really promising was the on-line expanded experience of LeapWorld….it’s FREE (once you’ve purchased your Explorer)…and the content is not just more ABC drills…there’s lots of wonderful new concepts to explore — a weather app where you can set the temperature, the humidity, etc. and then see how your settings impact the weather on the little town.  Maybe because my older son was obsessed with the Weather Channel as a preschooler – this seems particularly fun. There are also educational games that aren’t about right or wrong–but exploring.  For example, there is a scale –and you can add more objects to each side to see which weighs more.   From what we saw today–there seems to be a happy revival of the what many refer to as the Golden Age of Children’s Software of the ’90s–where technology embraced educational games with innovation and creativity.  From a safety standpoint–this also has advantages since your child gets to LeapWorld by plugging in their Explorer to your PC–not by surfing the web. We sat so quietly during this presentation (we’re normally a noisy group) that one of our pr buddies thought we had already left the showroom.

Of course, our intention to behave and be relatively quiet was completely blown when we got to the new baby toys. There were many  interesting toys…pretend lap tops (with a blog and email feature) for two year olds, new drums, a new activity table…but then we all saw the following toy.  I don’t know why I always think I’m being punked –but today I was sure this was it.  So I decided to say nothing at first. I heard a little chuckle from my niece Ali (assistant extraordinaire) and my brother James was leaning an elbow into me in just that way that older brother can…and then I just lost it.   I looked around…was this a joke? (My mother was on deadline with another project so she wasn’t with us today – but truth be told I think she would have laughed as well–but she probably would have told us to behave ourselves!)

LeapFrog's Learn & Groove Magic Wand

Here’s the photo and you can watch the video.    

Ok, we got over it

I really liked this new interactive pot, called Potty, –that comes with veggies..my favorite part?…the lid says “open” and “closed’…this will be great fun for toddlers. Watch the video!

We also  saw more extensions on the TAG and TAG Jr. reading lines (both Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award winners).  More titles are promised for both and there will be an interactive USA and World Map to go with TAG that looked like fun for both kids and parents. While there were more licensed titles–we were assured that there would still be more classic storybooks in the growing collection of the TAG libraries– we hope so.

We look forward to testing the new products with kids — and I have a sense that the folks in toyland know that as a family, we take what we do very seriously, but with an appropriate sense of humor…

TAG Interactive World Map

Pick of the Day: Leapfrog's TAG and TAG Junior

If you’re looking for a high tech learning toy this season, we high recommend Leapfrog’s TAG and TAG Junior reading systems.  Both marry technology with collections of award winning books. Do they replace reading a book with your child? Of course not–but they will encourage your kids to explore and “read” books on their own.

Full review and shopping info for both

TAG Reading System

TAG Junior Reading System

We’d skip their My Pal Scout–this is designed to be an interactive pet for toddlers.  We found him to be less than huggable and the skills he’s meant to teach are better taught with real life experiences.  All of the current interactive, downloadable dolls on the market pale in comparison to the old Actimates from Microsoft.  Their original Barney really became Barney for little children. It was truly magical to watch kids interact with this doll.  This doll doesn’t  compare.

Top high tech toys 2009

V Tech's Kidizoom Digital Camera Plus

Here are our some of favorites of the season– click on the name of the product to read our complete review at www.toyportfolio.com

For younger children:

LeapFrog Counting Candles (LeapFrog)

Two great cameras for 3s and up to enjoy:

Kidizoom Digital Camera Plus (V-Tech)

Disney Pix Jr Digital Camera (Disney)

If you have a child totally into cars, you need to look at:

Doodle-Track Cars (Day Dream Toys)

For kids  8 & up:

MindFlex Game (Mattel)

Nanos (Hexbug)

Eye Clops Night Vision Binoculars (Jakks Pacific)

For really advanced builders:

Mindstorm (Lego)

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)

Parents surf and watch TV eight times more than they read to kids

While we’re all on facebook and twittering…not to mention shopping on line and watching tv…it turns out that we’re not reading to our kids.

Leapfrog recently sent me the findings of a study they commissioned that indicated:

“While the majority of parents (83 percent) do read to their child daily, those who do spend an average of about 32 minutes reading, compared with a total of 209 minutes (approximately 3∏ hours) a day watching TV and browsing the Web.”

Does this surprise anyone?  At first this looked really upsetting but if you’re really reading books with your child for 32 minutes a day (if that’s for real)…it’s a good start. It doesn’t mean that the rest of the day our kids should be plugged into the tv/computer.  The problem I always had with my boys is that bedtime reading always became about one more book–and then you feel conflicted– after all you’re thrilled they want to read more…but at some point you realize it’s not about the book, but about not going to SLEEP!!!

LeapFrog is running a promotion in honor of National Reading Month…to inspire kids and parents to read one million hours. If you sign up, you’re in the running to win a TAG Reading System (We gave this electronic reading system our Platinum Award last year.)

For more details on the study, visit

Pre-Toy Fair Buzz: Does your three year old need a BlackBerry?

leapfrogblackberryPart 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.