One of the hardest categories to fill each year are small vehicles that are safe for the 3 and under crowd. Many parents just hope for the best and give their kids small Hot Wheels, Matchbox and wooden trains–the problem with them of course is that they do have small parts that are potentially dangerous. Playskool’s new Wheel Pals line is meant to answer that issue. The cars are small in scale – with everything safely anchored. Our testers loved the new Round About Railway. If you’re looking for a setting that your toddler will enjoy (and not sit on)…look no further. You put the train at the top of the setting and then your child can either hit the plunger (which activates the train sound)…or just push the train down the track. The vehicle moves slowly enough so that your toddler can track the vehicle, a plus. We thought the Railway works much better than the Fold ‘n Go Garage (we found that some of the ramps did not lock in sufficiently well).
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.
As you know the time frame for the new safety regulations under the CPSIA have been extended by a year. We asked Jim Becker, the co-partner of becker & mayer! some questions about the regs and the new direction of their science/activity kits under the SmartLab brand.
How has the last year of changing safety regulations affected your business?
Because we’ve been selling a lot of products to major retailers over the last few years, we’ve been in the thick of safety regulations for a while now. So we are ahead of the curve, so to speak. I would guess the effects on us are probably less than for other companies.
There are certain kits that we just won’t be able to sell anymore. For others, it’s an added extra expense. And for new products, we really have to design around the safety regulations.
Do you think the extra year before the enforcement of the new CPSIA was necessary?
Yes, because manufacturers need time to redesign their products to meet the regulations.
What was the goal of new redesign [rebrand] of your kits?
While we love the SmartLab dog, as do all of our loyal customers, we decided to rebrand in a way that showcases the components. Our goal was to retain the fun of the dog but focus on the excitement of the product.
What is your favorite kit in the new line?
You-Build-It RoboXplorer…We really created something entirely new that allows kids to build a robotic mechanism that is not only fun to play with, but also teaches kids the fundamentals of robotics. One of the greatest features is kids get to experiment and change things learning through trial and error—the best way to learn!
(SEO: we haven’t tested this one yet.)
What was your favorite toy as a kid?
Legos…I loved to endlessly build things. As a teenager, I graduated to building simple electronics, so my other favorite “toy” was a soldering iron. And, I still have it!
We loved the concept of these new vehicles from Kid Galaxy when we first saw them at Toy Fair. Happily, they work really well. The figure in the middle (left) has a built-in motor. Once you place it in the vehicle the truck will move forward and you can see the pistons moving–also cool. It’s fun that the motor is also a character that can be used for spinning stories. Our testers really liked the Dump Truck and the Pick’n’ Plow. The mechanism on the Lift ‘n’ Load wasn’t as sturdy as the others. These are interesting and engaging vehicles for preschoolers. We’re giving Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Awards to both the Dump and Pick ‘n’ Plow Truck.
We just got the new Lamaze Play and Grow Elephantunes–similar to the original Octotunes when you squeeze the “feet”–it produces a musical sound. But now there are only four feet to toot. Stay tuned. We’ll have to see what our testers think. Both are cute–just less toot.
The reveal of the new tween Dora the Explorer was going to be a pre-holiday event-much like the way the company rolls out Elmo every year. Alas–the silhouette release in February caused alot of upset. Parents were concerned that the beloved character was growing up too fast. So what’s a company to do? Release the photo and assure parents that the Dora brand has not taken a terrible turn. While the “great” reveal has been done prematurely, I’m sure the folks at Mattel are thrilled with the extensive coverage and general positive response to the new Dora. Taking a page from the American Girl (also owned by Mattel)- the new Dora celebrates being a girl. Her story line focuses on solving mysteries with her multi-ethnic group of girl friends. While we haven’t seen the games yet–it seems they have steered clear of boys and shopping at the mall. Although there is a fashion component (even a ecologically aware tween needs to look cool). We look forward to seeing the on-line component to the new Dora. Stay tuned.
Looking for a great lightweight truck to take to the sandbox–or just enjoy in your house? Take a look at Sprig Toys new Eco-Trucks ($14.95). We’ve been big fans of this truly green company that makes it toys from repurposed milk jugs and saw dust! There are three trucks in the new in line: a loader, a dump truck and an exacavator. While we were concerned that some folks may find them too lightweight, our testers across the board thought the weight was a plus–making the toys easier for their kids to tote about.
I just opened a box of Joobles…a really adorable collection of knit dolls (made of organic cotton) from Fair Indigo. Each doll is knitted (some with yarn hair)…and stitched features. This is now the third collection of fabric dolls we\’ve received this month that have such wit — a really good sign that there is still a great deal of talent and creativity out there in toy land. (Apparently a lot coming from Peru! – the blabla collection is also made in Peru.) The Joobles are $29 each. They will appeal to both boys and girls- also a plus! They will be just right for toddlers that will love their squish factor and cheerful design. According to the company’s information, Joobles are made in a Peruvian co-op that also provides free breakfast to the children in their community.
My mother is giving a speech today at the University of Maryland for her new book, Stanley Hayami: Nisei Son…go mom. Apart from writing 50 plus children’s books and parenting books, my amazing mother has written this book–based on the diary of a young man who was sent ( along with 120,000 other Americans of Japanese descent ) to internment camps during World War II. Stanley then served in the Army–and died serving his country. My mother has taken this primary source and brought his story to life with such clarity and emotion, that people are moved to tears when they “meet” Stanley. I recently heard her speak at NYU–and again I marveled at how my mother is such a gifted story teller. I also highly recommend Dear Miss Breed–the story of a dedicated librarian who became an incredible and consistent source of support to so many children and their families sent to camps during WWII.
All of this is by way of my saying that my mother and I usually play with window markers and crayons together. So I’m proud that she’s off giving another speech–but I miss that she’s not here. I have just tried out Crayola’s new Window Crayons. At first I felt a little awkward coloring on our office windows by myself–but I’ve loosened up…and have created a garden of flowers and grass. Try it, it’s liberating.
If you’re ok with kids drawing on windows/sliding doors–this is a REALLY FUN activity. At only $4.99–it’s a great buy. Comes with five colors.
If you’re fans of the I SPY series, you’ll want to take a look at Briarpatch’s new I SPY Flip 5. The idea is to match similar images that appear on the play pieces (disks that have images on both sides). The picture can be a photo or a silhouette of that image (a star fish, a horse, a panda, a ballerina, etc.)…At each turn, players take turns saying “1, 2, 3, 4, flip 5″—that player then flips five disks. Players then look for matches –call them and collect them. The player with the greatest number of matches wins that round. The player to win five rounds wins. Our game players liked looking for the matching images–and the pace of the game. This is one you won’t mind playing again and again. It’s a step above straight matching games–calling for a more developed sense of visual discrimination. You can introduce the game to a younger child by using fewer disks–making it a bit less overwhelming. At $12.95, it’s a good price for a game that you can easily take along if you’re traveling–all of the pieces will fit easily in a big zip lock bag. There’s also a Dino Flip 5 that we’ve sent out for additional testing–we think dino-fans will love it…same idea but with images of dinosaurs. Both games are marked 4 & up and will work with 2-4 players.