Pick of the Day: Instead of Going to Starbucks!

Step 2 Cafe Barista

Step 2 Cafe Barista

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 Starbucks for 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.

Rocky the Talking Truck and Monty T-Rex Dance it Out!

Talking Truck dances with Roaring T-Rex….watch the video.

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!

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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

Pick of the Day: Learning Curve's Thomas and Friends New Talking Train Set

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.

Our favorite dogs…

Now that Bo has happily arrived at the White House…here are some of favorite toy dogs just in case bringing home the real thing isn’t in the cards…

Biscuit was on our Platinum List last year and still keeps us company in the office.  He’s extremely sweet but still pretty pricey.

New for Spring, from the same Furreal line is a smaller and much more affordable Lil’ Patter Pup.  If  the Gabor sisters were going to have a  toy dog, this would be it…of course that dates me…so if you’re Paris Hilton…you get the idea. There is a Shih-Tsu and a Pomeranian…both bark and unlike Biscuit, they do walk!  At $29.99 they are  a good buy.

We also still love Lucky–who is bigger than Lil’ Patter Pup and does many of the same tricks as Biscuit. Lucky is from Zizzle.

And if a low tech pup will do the trick, we love the new Spot from Kids Preferred. This oversized delicious doll is $29.99.

And if you’re looking for a great book on dogs…I’m biased but I highly recommend my mom’s Have You Seen Dogs?

I Can Be…Barbie Gymnastics Coach

Barbie is not the gymnast herself this time–but the coach – a welcome and empowering message for girls.  Set comes with Barbie’s kid sister Kelly who spins on the balance beam (a fun feature).  Of course there is a hairbrush, a medal and Barbie’s purse (with a bottle of water).  Will be a hit with young gymnasts in training…

Great new RCs for Preschoolers: Kid Galaxy Strikes Again

Time for Bubbles…

Spring time always meant new bubbles in my house. I’m a big fan of the Little Kids No-Spill lineprobably because I can still remember crying over those plastic bottles of pink or blue bubbles–remember those?  You had to put your finger in the bottle to pull out your wand?  This Bubble Blitzer with a Dora the Explorer theme makes lots of little bubbles when you blow…Our testers had no problems making this one work.  The Bubble Blitzer Glitter Critters are very cute looking but required more air than our testers could muster.  If you’re worried about your child running with the Bubble Blitzer in their mouth (not a good idea)…stick with the original.

A perfect puzzle for Spring: Mudpuppy's Busy Bugs

fp_busy_bugsThe actual Busy Bugs puzzle from Mudpuppy is really stunning…for some reason the artwork on the box doesn’t really convey how attractive this puzzle really is even though it’s the same image.  Kids will enjoy working on this oversized (2′ by 3′) floor puzzle that illustrates how busy all the bugs are in the garden. Comes with 24 large, sturdy pieces–lots’ to talk about as you work on this one.  Suggested retail $17 (3 & up–but of course 3s and 4s will need help to begin).