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.

Top Ten Green Toys

With Green Day hours away, we are certainly pleased with the trend in the toy industry to go green.  It seems like every week there are new organic doll collections, toys made of recycled materials, and toys/games that have an empowering (but not obnoxiously heavy-handed) green agenda.  More good news-the packaging also seems to be more friendly to the environment-with fewer toys trapped in a sea of plastic.

Here is our current list of top ten green favorites–happily the list keeps growing!

blabla dolls (blabla)

Earth Mates (Mary Meyer)

My Natural Collection (Hosung NY)

Organic Joobles (Fair Indigo)
Recycling Truck (Green Toys

Recycling Truck (Playmobil) ptru1-4866605reg1

Eco-Trucks (Sprig Toys)
Busy Bugs (Mudpuppy) fp_busy_bugs1
Green Dollhouse (Plan Toysimages-1
Elia Mini Chair (eliafun.com) eliaminichair11

My favorite new action figures…Ugly Dolls

img_0369It’s a beautiful Spring day here in NYC–finally!  I’m cheered by the weather but completely bummed out that my mother tripped yesterday. Nothing is broken – also good. So shouts out to her to feel better quickly. Yesterday (before lunch) we had just congratulated ourselves on getting the office cleared from the last massive batch of toys we’ve received this past month.  We are busy notifying award winners for spring..humming along…

So today’s UPS delivery brought many, many new boxes…and the first one I opened contained new Ugly Doll Action Figures from Ugly Dolls.  These little plastic versions of their plush counterparts made me smile instantly….They twist at their middle…I planted mine in my container of grass (no mowing required here.).

Your kids will want them (and truth be told they make great office toy too!). There are 12 action figures in the first collection. The boxes don’t tell you which figure you’re getting -so there is that element of surprise as well (depending on your child this will either be fun or tear producing).

Need to sit down? Check out the Elia Mini Chair

2chairsAt toy fair this year there was a booth that caught my attention…while most booths are chockful of game/ dolls/toys/electronics/candy…this booth had a chair.  I was at the very end of toy fair–I’m pretty “toyed” out by then, but I stopped.

The cardboard chair from eliafun.com had a very modern appeal.  It comes undecorated (left) with big bold stickers (a la Marimekko)…that also looked like fun (and something a parent wouldn’t mind having around).  Our testers really enjoyed working on the chair….the directions were easy to follow and one of our testers was delighted that the chair is reversible giving her more options about decorating!  She and her mom are thinking about decoupage.  Their site has lots of creative ideas for decorating. The chair holds up to 200 lbs. – impressive.  Michael Gross, the President (and an architect/engineer), also points out that the chair is completely recyclable. Michael’s background is evident in the construction and design of the chair.  We’ve seen many cardboard products in the past – many with extensive pre-printing on them – making them more like 3D coloring books.  What I really liked about this chair besides the design–was the open-endedness of the project.   The chair retails for $34.99.  The site also indicates that a table is in the works.  eliaminichair1

Pedicure Anyone?….Creativity for Kids new Pretty Pedicure Salon

If you’re looking for a birthday present for a girl totally into the whole pedicure/spa scene, look no further than Creativity for Kids Pretty Pedicure Salon.  This set comes with a blow up tub for soaking, three nail polish colors, toe separators, slippers, a heart shaped file,  heart shaped confetti soap, a towel (that comes in the shape of a heart–that unfolds when you wet it), decals, liners for making perfect French nail tips and a bag for keeping it all in.  Ok, so if this isn’t your thing, it seems pretty silly but if you’re in this zone–it’s a memorable gift (and clean feet).

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?

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.

Crayola Beginnings Baby Drop and See

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.