LEGO: Open-ended sets are Basic Gear

One of the best press releases I’ve read this week came from LEGO.  It affirmed their commitment to open-ended sets.  While it’s often their more elaborate model sets that get most of the press, the importance of providing kids with open-ended construction sets can not be underestimated.

LEGO Basic Bucket

This new blue bucket looks promising–it comes with a rainbow of LEGO bricks…and wheels (always fun). There is no right or wrong way here–just whatever you feel like building.

While some kids are more secure having a model to follow–having the freedom to create your own structures is something we should all experience.  Chances are you probably have a bucket worth of LEGO bricks around the house…why not spill them out on the table and see what your family comes up with.

Another cool day at toy fair 2010!

We had another big day at Javits today. I went in a dress (since I thought I was doing tv) and carrying tv shoes (there’s no way you can do Javits in tv shoes!)

We started at LEGO…always one of our favorites stops, visited with STEP 2 to see lots of fun new outdoor toys, International Playthings (super cute new toys from Calico Critters), Spin Master (lots of flying toys) and at Creativity for Kids we met the inventor of Shrinky Dinks!

My iPhone died right as we got to Spin Master–which was too bad since there were lots of fun things to tape there.  Oh well. I did bring my charger–but alas the one that plugs into my computer, not an outlet. Pretty lame on my part.  Below is a picture of Kate from International Playthings trying to find an adaptor so that we can charge my phone using the crank radio from their Ecotronics link. Unfortunately there wasn’t one that worked with my phone, but I was really so grateful to Kate for the effort!

Kate from International Playthings

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)

Heavily Promoted: Fisher-Price's Trio Building Set

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.

Toy Safety: Small Parts in Toys Still a Concern

LEGO has been a consistent winner of our top Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award each year–often with multiple winners.  This year will be no exception–except in one category.

When we were at Toy Fair in February we were really excited to see a renewed commitment to the DUPLO line–designed for kids 2 & up. There were Fire Stations,  Trucks, Zoos…all great fun and we knew our preschool testers would love giving them a try.

Each set has arrived and while they are wonderful for 3s & up, we are concerned about the size of some of the pieces in these sets for kids under three. While most of the pieces are big and chunky, we found one or two pieces that caused concern. Let us be clear, all of the pieces meet current government guidelines.  Each of the pieces in question (see images below) extend outside of the “choke tube” and therefore are completely legal.  We wondered though–why make these pieces so close?  The CPSC recommends that parents use a toilet paper roller as a home test…all of these pieces fail under this test.

So we asked the team at LEGO whether there was a design or developmental advantage to having two year olds handle such small pieces and why the pieces were so close to the edge. Here is their response:

Thanks for your question about the DUPLO Zoo* item and some of the accessories it includes.  As you know, all LEGO products are rigorously tested and meet or exceed all safety regulations in the more than 130 countries where the products are sold.  Because the safety of children is our primary concern, we also have our own safety and testing standards that we layer on top of the regulated requirements.

We always make effort to have play imitate life, so the size of the suitcase is proportionate to the DUPLO figure.  We would not include an accessory that could potentially cause harm to a child or that does not pass the CPSC standard for small parts and age grading as regulated by the official choke tube test.  The accessory does not fit completely into the choke tube and use and abuse testing reveals that it also does not break into small parts that will fit completely in the tube.  While we understand the “home” test potential of the toilet paper tube, it is not a regulated means by which to measure safety as it has no bottom to mimic a real-life scenario.

*Since we asked this question about the DUPLO Zoo, we have received several other set that raise similar issues for us.

While we appreciate that the idea of scale is important–we’d side on the up-scaling or eliminating these items for this age range.  The working light piece on the top of the  truck (one of the coolest aspects of the garbage truck–and also in the fire station set) could have been attached to a bigger piece, the fireman’s ax could be attached to his  hand, the same with the pitchfork…you get the idea. The flower and the fish…just look so inviting.

All of these products would have been Platinum Award contenders if not for these small pieces.  We do recommend them for preschoolers–but unfortunately we don’t feel comfortable with the existing age label.  If you buy one of these sets and you have a child under three or a child who still mouths his toys…remove those pieces that concern you and you’ll be left with a engaging product.

We hope LEGO will remodel these “close” pieces.  Last year, after our concern over STEP 2′s hot dogs (that came with some of their kitchens)…the hot dogs were redesigned…so that the  hot dog is now encased  in a bun–making it a much wider and safer prop for play.

Below are some of the pieces, in our opinion, that are unnecessarily too close for comfort.  Again–completely within the law, but we see no reason for them to be this size.

legolightlegoshovellegosuitcaselegoflowerlegoaxlegofish

Star Wars: Republic Attack Shuttle

We are now in full test mode here–and the number one request for boys in that 6-9 range are Star Wars sets.  So here’s some initial feedback. The large and showy LEGO Star Wars Republic Attack Shuttle with 636 pieces got mixed reviews.  One of our eight year old testers and his Dad had trouble with getting some pieces to connect. I loved that this tester could show me exactly which step (#25 on page 22 of the 1st model book) posed a problem.  We then had a teen builder take a look.  He did not have a problem but noted that this was a more advanced build.

Let us know if you’ve tried this one. It is a really neat build once you’re done! I would suggest that if you’re starting with LEGO (in any theme…start with the smaller sets and build up to the larger models).  There will be a lot less frustration in your house.

Great Tip for LEGO Builders

I’ve been testing LEGOs since we started reviewing toys.  And while I wasn’t big on too many toys as a kid, I did love my LEGOs.

One of our testers just told me that her son sorts out all the pieces by color first before he starts to build.  Maybe many of you already do this–but after decades of playing with LEGOs…it was a lightbulb moment for me.  So I thought I would pass it on.

It comes under the same heading of things you might not think of….I had a similar lightbulb moment when I realized that if you actually look at a ball when you’re trying to hit it, the chances of actually making contact rise dramatically.  Now if you’re a jock by nature, you are probably laughing…but for me this was HUGE.  I wish I had come to this realization when I was a kid.  So I mention it to all the coaches/gym teachers I come in contact with because I don’t think most people would even think it’s an option not to look.  Perhaps because I was always sure that I was going to get hit by the ball, I naturally closed my eyes…or later in life looked at my opponents while trying to hit the tennis ball.  So if this helps anyone…my good deed is done.

"Let the Force be With you!" – LEGO Star War's 10th Anniversary

8019-0000-xx-12-1I haven’t been blogging much today because I’ve been busy requesting new toys to test!  There’s alot of excitement with our Lego builders for the new sets based on Star Wars.  With the roll out of the Clone Wars, there’s a new generation of SW fans–much to my delight!  So we have many a young Jedi getting ready to test the new sets as they roll out throught the season.

Anniversaries in Toyland

The toys we played with as kids also help define which generation we belong to– they become cultural touchstones. (I knew I was getting a little bit older when the several pr folks told me about their own Cabbage Patch Dolls and My First Ponys.)You may be interested to know that some of  the toys many of us enjoyed as kids, are hitting significant milestones:Lego – 50 yearsCabbage Patch- 25 yearsMy Little Pony – 25 yearsHot Wheels- 40 yearsEasy-Bake Oven- 45 yearsScrabble – 60 yearsTrivial Pursuit- 25 yearsHard to imagine a time when there wasn’t Scrabble!

LEGO joins companies complying with new safety requirements

images1.jpgWe’re delighted to announce that LEGO has sent in safety verification forms for the products that had been awarded Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Awards for 2008. They include:

Hogwarts Castle, Ultimate Lego Duplo Building Set, A World of LEGO Mosaics, Monster Dino, Tiny Turbos, Tiger Shark Attack, Aquabase Invasion, King’s Castle Siege and Fire Station.

The form asks that companies verify that their products are lead free (surface coated and embedded) and phthalates free.

So far the companies complying with our new Safety Requirements are a very exclusive club of three:

Edushape, Publication International and Lego.

For more information about our new protocol please visit our website, www.toyportfolio.com.