At 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.
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).
I’ve discovered over the years – you either love or hate Play-Doh. I just had a really good time trying out the new Spaghetti Factory ($9.99)…It’s similar to the “hair” makers of the past. (If you haven’t played with Play Doh since you’re a kid–then you will have no idea what I’m talking about.) In both cases you fill the toy with Play-Doh and you press down on the mechanism and the Play-Doh comes out in long “spaghetti-shaped” strands. If you have a child with special needs and you’re working on building strength in your child’s hands–you may want to give this one a try. You’ll want to attach the pasta machine to the table surface for added stability.
The base has molds for making other shapes…my mother made a lot of ravioli and bow ties–but for me it all about pushing down the plunger and making the spaghetti come out.
Ok, so if a new sportscar isn’t in your future any time soon — this desk-size version from Automoblox may make you feel a bit better. This particular car is their C9R model. We’ve been big fans of these beautifully designed wooden cars that also can be taken apart. Designed for kids-but will also be enjoyed as a great office toy!
Last year we spent way too much time flying Spin Master’s little Havoc Helis around our office. We got pretty good at it too–so we’re pretty psyched that they have new flying machines! The Switchblade promises to take off like a UFO and transform in the air–into a hig powered aircraft. We’ll have to go outside for this one…field trip!
While I know a lot of grown ups looking to re-invent themselves, I was struck by 13 year old Maddie Bradshaw, the founder of Snap Caps. Now a million dollar plus business, these cheerfully decorated bottle caps are sold in 400 stores…with 40,000 necklaces sold each week…pretty impressive at any age.
So we asked Maddie a few questions…..
What gave you the idea to make Snap Caps?
I wanted magnets for my locker. I used my Uncle Sam’s bottle caps from his coke machine to create my designs. After I gave them out to friends, I decided to figure out a way to wear them.
Have you always wanted to be in the toy business?
I have wanted to own a business since the 2nd grade. Some of my first sales were in local toy stores. I love Learning Express.
Who inspires you the most? Albert Einstein
What do you want to be when you grow up? Immigration lawyer or a patent attorney.
Maybe because it’s refreshingly not 10 degrees outside, but just the image of this saucer makes me think that Spring is really going to come….eventually. We’ve requested samples to try with our testers. The Ecosaucer from Green Toys is made from recycled plastic milk containers. Not sure why it’s green…other than the obvious green statement. We have given this company’s Indoor Gardening Kit an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award.
Part of LeapFrog’s new product line this year includes the Text & Learn that references the design of the adult BlackBerry. While there seems to be a lot of uproar about this latest grown-up device scaled down for the sandbox crowd, there’s really nothing very new about the concept. When fax machines were new (remember that?), Tyco had a really neat version for kids. The typical toy phone has gone through many variation that track the design and functions of the real thing. So it didn’t really seem that unusual to me that there would be a BlackBerry styled toy–given the adult dependence on their devices. In terms of play value, preschoolers love taking on grown up roles with literal props. Pretend kits for playing office, restaurant, firefighter, etc. are generally a huge hit with this age group. It’s developmentally right on target in terms of expanding their own sense of themselves in a larger community. Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean they need this particular electronic prop or any other. The proof will be in the game play – which is really hard to judge until we see a finished product and try it out with kids. There is another problem that every parent runs into at some point…even toddlers know the difference between your keys and some fake set of toy keys. Most kids will not accept the substitution! On the other hand, if this is a fun, easy to take along hand held device that has age appropriate content–it might be very appealing.
Move over Wii. LeapFrog is vying for that active plug in play experience for kids 3-5. Zippity is co-developed with Disney. While we haven’t tested it yet, we like the idea that kids are up and moving while playing games that require them to run, jump and hop on the play mat. Of course the big question will be the content. The price is $79.95 (comes with eight pre-loaded games)–additional games will be $24.99. Scheduled for a summer release.