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.
By this time in the toy season, we’re pretty jaded. We’ve seen just about every new toy coming out for this holiday season. So when we say this is the most amazing toy of the year…we really mean it! At $14.99, this is just a magical play experience! The toy’s official name is Doodle-Track Car from Day Dream Toys. For a full review visit, www.toyportfolio.com.
Here’s what you do…you draw a line with a washable marker and then turn on the little car, put it on the paper with the drawn line–and it will follow the line…really….Each car comes with a little track and a marker, but we took big white paper and made our own track. You can also download customized tracks on their website www.doodletrackcar.com.
The new Dora the Explorer Dance Around Dora (from Fisher-Price) dances, twirls, dances on her toes and sings. She even encourages kids to dance with her–also fun. I’m usually not a huge fan of Dora dolls…a bit too plastic for us–but she’s such a huge hit with the preschool crowd, we always take a look. When Dora goes up on her toes–her body expands underneath. Now part of my job is to stick my finger where most kids might…so as her body returned to its original size, I put my finger in the space and sure enough, she pinched me! Not horribly–but something to be aware of. Watch the video.
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.
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:
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.
“Wow” was how the review started from one of our testing families. Our tester parent sent us the following review after watching her kids enjoy this setting : “The complete set with the large boat, submarine, small boat, diving cage, deep sea diving bell. etc. etc is just incredible. Each set individually or all of them together provide innumerable opportunities for pretend play. The figurines and all of the accessories provide EVERYTHING a child needs to act out nautical stories. I am amazed by the level of detail in each set.”
This set is right for the bathtub…this family also plays with it on “land”…
If you have a child that likes to pretend with miniature settings…this is one to consider!
Chickyboom from Blue Orange Games is a fun balancing game that appealed to our school age testers (and their parents). Most balancing toys like this ask players to add pieces – here you take away chicks, bales of hay and wagon wheels…they all have different weights and will affect the balance of the perch. Points are assigned for each of the play pieces–the players with the greatest point value (when the rail finally falls over) wins. Easy to learn –and fun to play. The company says that each round takes about 1o minutes. Our parent testers gave this one a thumbs up. We’re giving this one an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award. A solid gender free choice for kids 4 & up.
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.