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.
Step 2’s new Cafe Barista is a fun pretend prop that very much reflects our coffee-addicted life style. For so many older toddlers and preschoolers that accompany their parents to Starbucksfor their Lattes and Mistos…the loud machines that create these drinks are a part of their lives. The Cafe Barista comes with two large cups and a smaller cup (for the froth of course!). The machine does make a good deal of noise…true to the real thing. Watch our video. Read our full review, www.toyportfolio.com. Our only complaint…the cups have holes in them — so this is strictly a pretend drinking toy. For some folks this is preferred…but for most toddlers…the filling and spilling of water in a real cup is a great deal of fun. The holes are there for safety purposes–we applaud the concern but hope the team at Step2 can fashion a solution that addresses both function and safety.
Sometimes we get toys that are marketed to kids and yet we find that almost every grown-up that comes near them just starts playing with them. Since playing is good at any age, I feel it’s very important to write about these types of products. You may remember that the magnetic building sets that burst onto the market several years ago had that appeal – making them a great choice to just have on the coffee table for some open-ended play time for anyone so inclined. Research also indicates that type of activity for adults is great for keeping those brain neurons firing.
This year’s winner in this category is Citiblocs by Citiblocs. At first you might think a box of equally- sized precision cut wooden pieces wouldn’t be that enthralling – at any age…but once you get building, it’s just fun to see how many different variations you can make. The pieces are very smooth and are made of Radiata Pine from certified renewable forests in New Zealand – making them not only fun, but onto our Green Toy list as well.
Each set comes with ideas for building…they are marked 3 & up, we’d say more like 5 & up and & up and & up!
One of our tester moms (an architect) — LOVED this product. Somehow we knew she would.
We got mixed reviews on the new Crayola TaDoodles Drop & See. This three level ball run is designed so that your toddler needs to push a lever at each level to release the ball to the next level. The toy is marked 9 months and up and that’s where the problems arose for our testers. Our nine month old testers could not make the levers work. In fact a play group with mostly 18 month old toddlers also had difficulty. The biggest complaint is that the toy falls over easily–unless it’s against a wall which is hard to make happen when you’re talking about a toy for on the go toddlers. Nothing like asking a toddler to only play with something in one location!
Even without the falling over issues, our older toddlers had problems making the red cat lever operate. Our testers were creative — suggesting that the levers should be bigger and that the base should be wider to address the tipping issue. Everyone liked the concept but all had suggestions on how to “fix” the toy to make it better.
The testers that were 2+ could make the toy work–and even our younger testers enjoyed making the balls go from level to level with help…but still, we think the age label is too off the mark to make this one an award winner.
I just tried the new Construction Claw from Matchbox. Part of the Construction Adventures line..this big yellow construction toy can be used for picking up pretend construction materials (action figures, blocks, your sister’s Barbie)….Anyway, it’s really, really loud…so I was sure when I showed it to my mother she would make a disapproving face. Instead…she just started laughing. You see, you just never know! If you’re not big on noisy toys, this isn’t for you…but your five year old will love it.
This seems to be the year of really fun plush doll collections! We just got in the Lubies from Rocket USA. Each of the round animals comes in a box marked top-secret. The animals to select from include: a bear, a cow, a dog, an elephant (shown), a polar bear, a penguin, a cat and a pig. The elephant is my personal favorite. I would have loved a little sound in them…maybe a chime…but then they would not have appealed to the 7 & up collector that the company seems focused on. As soon as we took enough of them out the box, our testers started throwing them. So it’s really a plush/ball? We’re giving the collection an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award. They retail for $8.99-$9.99.
Hooray! We have a new silly fun game to tell you about! Ring-o Flamingo from Gamewright is really lots of fun to play. The first thing that our testers loved was the game board. You lock in the pink flamingoes and the two alligators into the board that fits into the box. The game play involves the concept that one of the flamingoes has gone overboard and you have to fling the flamingo a lifesaver as quickly as possible before the alligators get the flamingo! Watch out, you don’t want to get a lifesaver around the neck of one of the alligators. Now here’s the really fun part, each player has a life boat that is loaded with lifesavers–that you “fling” onto the game board. So it’s sort of like play ring toss…but you’re all playing at once. The key is learning how to be far enough away from the board so that you hit the flamingoes repeatedly. The more flamingoes you save the more points you get…and win. Points are deducted if you save the alligators. Fast paced and fun for all ages. We’re giving this one an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award!
Last week I started getting emails from people I grew up with in Monticello New York. Addicted to my iphone, I was puzzled by the flurry of emails. Of course the source was a new high school page. My two sons felt pretty strongly that I should NEVER join Facebook. So here I was–with an inbox of friendly invitations from people I haven’t seen in a long time–and many of them I knew since we were in preschool.
At the same time I started getting email from toy testers and public relations people–all encouraging me to join. So, with apologies to my sons…I’ve posted. You can visit my page and there is also one for the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio. Please feel free to join me on either page. If you have pictures of your kids playing with the toys we’ve recommended or toys that you think we should know about…send them our way.
When this push toy first came into the office this summer we were really thrilled. Finding fun toys that are right on target for toddlers is one of toughest tasks we have each year. Much like the Blue Chip Corn Popper from Fisher-Price, the Color Roller doesn’t require batteries to make something happen. It makes a clicking noise when it’s pushed (one of our testers that lives in an apartment thought the noise was annoying after a while…so you do have judge your tolerance for “toy” noise). When you look at the roller part of the toy when it’s not in motion you can see many smaller cylinders of blue, yellow, and red–but when you push the roller – amazingly the colors of the rainbow appear. High marks to this elegantly designed toy.
I recently took the Color Roller on the Today Show and one of the little sister that came to the green room with her big brother and sister loved pushing the toy. Always fun to see kids enjoy our picks–but here’s the thing I really loved. The older boys (5-7) started pushing the toy all over the place and then they started using the roller in their dramatic play. Not sure why boys (without making sweeping generalizations here) can find a way to turn almost any toy into combative accessories. Having grown up with two boys, having two sons of my own, and having observing so many kids over the years …there is a difference in the way they approach the play experience.
At $20, this is a really well-priced choice that encourages active play for toddlers who have tons of energy and will be pleased that they can make something happen.
For other top picks of the season for toddlers, visit toyportfolio.com.
We’re always on the look out for active games for preschool and early school age kids. It’s not always easy to design games that are right on target for these age groups. If the games are too complicated, you can quickly lose your audience and even at this age if the game seems too babyish – that can also draw a chorus of “We’re too big for this!”
A new company, I Can Do That Games www.icandothatgames.com, seems to completely understand their young audience and has created a wonderful new active game that our testers really enjoyed playing. The Cat In the Hat: I Can Do That! Game ($19.99) is an active game where the Cat in the Hat wants to see what players can do including doing the limbo under the included Trick-a-ma-stick. Game comes with 33 acitivty cards and props right out of the book including a fish, a boat, and a cake.
Parents will love the book connection and kids will enjoy watching their parents joining in the silliness of the game. Ideal for kids 4-8. For other award winning games, visit www.toyportfolio.com.