Fun New Vehicle from Step 2: Easy Turn Coupe

EasyRide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most parents today remember their own Cozy Coupe from Little Tikes. We’re always looking for variations on that classic first ride-in. Here’s a new vehicle in this category called the Easy Turn Coupe from Step 2.  Our testers loved the ease in which it moved. There is a third front wheel for added steering (always a plus). The cup holder got high marks.  There is a floor plate for younger kids– our only complaint is that if the intended rider is much younger, there should be a safety belt. Otherwise, this is a wonderful foot-powered vehicle.

 

Super Fun Bowling Set from Step 2

One of the pins from Step 2's Pin Pals Bowling Set

The new Pin Pals Bowling Set from Step 2 may rank as the best toy bowling set we’ve ever tested. The reason? The clever wide-based design. The ten pins are a little bit wider than a normal toy bowling pin–making them that much easier for older toddlers and preschoolers to place into position by themselves.  With other sets, the pins often tip over when they’re being set up…where’s the fun in that?

Also because of their design, the pins can be stacked. This added a whole new dimension to setting the pins up in vertical arrangements!

One of testers at play!

Our tester stacking them up on his own

Our testers also love the funny faces on each of the pins.  If you’re of a certain age, some of the them will remind you of Mr. Bill from Saturday Night Live.

Watch our video.

A cleaner TOYLAND

A few years ago toy land got really dirty.  I’m not talking about toys that are in poor taste, but real dirt.  Gone were all the classic clean-up toys. Our favorite – the vacuum cleaner was from Fisher-Price that had a light (friction activated) and little tiny balls (dirt).   I can go on at great length as to why this was the perfect toy vacuum cleaner…no batteries required, cause and effect, pleasing without being too noisy, etc….but someone, somewhere decided to do away with this little marvel.  This year we saw a renewed commitment to housekeeping!  Interestingly, we saw many a toy iron.  This one is a new setting from Step 2.

New Cleaning Station from Step 2

Emerging Themes: Banana Splits, Taxis and Toilets

Each year there are certain concepts that just seem to be in the air at toy fair. This year we are already seeing certain themes emerging for 2011.

Banana Splits, Taxis and Toilets…

From Learning Resources

Banana Split from Earlyears (International Playthings)

Step 2's New Taxi Ride In

Viking Toys Taxi (from International Playthings)

All wood...from Maxim

Even the new Disney Princess Castle comes with a royal throne

Faux Wooden Toilet Seat from Calico Critters

A room of their own…Step 2′s Naturally Playful Countryside Cottage

Step 2 Naturally Playful Countryside Cottage

Toddlers and preschoolers love having spaces that are scaled for them! It’s cozy and has such grown up features as a doorbell, a phone and a kitchen. If you’re shopping for such a cottage (that you can use indoors or out)–take a look at the new Step 2′s Naturally Playful Countryside Cottage. What I love about these types of spaces is how kids play with them differently as they grow.  For twos , the act of going in and out of the cottage is a huge part of the play- it’s much more about exploring the space and enjoying their new mobility–and ability to go move about a space independently.  Older toddlers and preschoolers – armed with more language and ability to pretend–will enjoy spinning their own stories about what they’re cooking, who they’re talking to on the phone, etc.

Our family toy tester pointed out two drawbacks. The photo on the box shows the cottage with flowers in the window box. The product does not come with flowers and there is no drainage hole in the window box for real flowers.  My recommendation – you can add a drainage hole if you’re going to use this outside–or use potted plants. The other comment was that there was no place to sit inside.  While this cottage does not come with a bench or chair, our tester noted that there was space for a child-size chair inside.  The cottage went together well (while the directions say a drill is optional–our tester felt the use of a drill made it much easier.)

One of our testers hard at work!

TODAY Show today…active and fun

Natalie and Stephanie discussing ride-on toysI headed up to the studio this morning with my intern Daniel — after putting toys together for us all semester, I thought it would be fun for him to see the studio and the end result of so many packages, emails and testing. I tried doing my hair this morning–and emerged from the building looking like a bad 1970s “before” picture.  Happily, the hair and make-up people at the show are so terrific, that I knew it was going to be ok.  I think they were even a little shocked by the sheer volume of hair.  Thanks to high def tv, I also think make up takes longer (not to mention that I’m a little older!) than it used to.  It really is amazing what professionals can do.  Everyone emerges from the hair and makeup area a better, more polished version of themselves.

This morning we had about ten kids.  One family has tested for us since their son was born five years ago.  They moved to Hong Kong in between and as I traveled up to the studio I realized that we had never met–so that was fun!  They now have two kids and I’m so happy they’re back from their adventure and can resume testing for us! Other kids were on with me about a year ago–so to see them now as full preschoolers was fun.  A new group joined us – I have to say this was the most well-behaved group of kids in the green room.  Their parents were really careful to hold off on the delicious donuts and cookies until after the segment. Smart move.

The challenge was to show toys and equipment for active play –indoors!  The YBIKES were a hit and disappeared when we went to talk about them–but I think they got camera time later on. The Kazam Balance Bike – also great was on the pedestal–and may have been blocked a little by the fire truck. You really couldn’t see how amazingly high the Sky Balls bounce in the air–or the 3D bubbles…but trust me – there are fun choices this season.

A very polite "excuse me" in the middle of the segment

Half way through the segment one of our testers very politely asked if she could go play in the playhouse…one of those great real live moments…priceless.

Natalie, Finley and Stephanie...at the end of the segment

Segment over, chocolate donut enjoyed on the car ride home…a good day!

Taking a look at the indoor Hopscotch Rug from Alex

To read the full article about the toys featured, visit www.toyportfolio.com.

Five Perfect Toys for Toddlers

Finding toys for toddlers can be super challenging! They’ve outgrown their baby toys–but not quite ready yet for more complex toys geared to preschoolers.  The toys need to match their new found mobility and desire to do things again and again!

Here are just five of my favorites:

Little People Load ‘n Go Wagon (Fisher-Price)

Step 2 Basic Rhythms Piano (Step 2)

Playskool Clipo Creativity Table (Playskool)

Schylling Color Roller (Schylling)

Rollipop Toddler Starter and Advanced Sets (Edushape)

The full reviews are on our site, www.toyportfolio.com.

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.

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

Step 2's Water Quarry

I grew up playing in a sandbox–it was right next to the hose which meant that floods were a great part of the fun. My two older brothers  always seemed to tell the best stories–that required swift action that often resulted in mud!  My mother’s only complaint about our adventures was that a good number of her good spoons ended up in the mix.

So when we both saw Step 2 ‘s new Water Quarry – that included vehicles, water and sand…we were very excited. (Of course there is a self-aware moment that most people probably don’t get as excited as we do when we see a new toy–but that’s part of the job description.)

One of our testers is here with the toy set up–but not yet in use.

simonquarry

You can see that there are lots of play possibilities here–the roadway, the ramps, the digger…all seem good.  Both families that took a whirl with this toy had almost the same reaction.  It’s wonderfully messy and right on target in terms of play for the 2-4 year old crowd.  If you don’t like mess-this toy is not for you. (No judgement here…but if you’re not happy with a lot of water, mud, etc….you know certain toys are not going to be a good choice to bring home.)

Both families wanted this toy to work–the kids initially loved the concept and enjoyed exploring both portions of the toy. They liked pouring water down the ramps. One parent also commented that she liked that the red piece fits like a lid so you could close up the toy from the elements.

However….they both reported the same problems with the design…the green roadways do not stay flush with the red road–so the cars get stuck at each point. The bigger ramp also fell off from time to time.They also wish the lower section was higher up so the kids could get to the sand without kneeling…(I would have just sat in the container).

At $99, both families felt that while this was fun–it needed some tweaking before they would recommend it to others. We agree–the concept is fresh, fun and right on target for the age group…we hope the company will address these design issues for their next sand toy!