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Product Type: Toys
Award: Platinum
Review Year: 2012

 


2012 Award
Hit the Hat
(International Playthings $19.99 Score:)

There's a lot of pre-reading involved in this triple attribute game. Players use three dice to determine the color, pattern and shape of the hat they must find. Players use the suction cupped mallets to find the hat with those three attributes. The first to hit six hats and take 6 hats is the winner. It is possible that on your turn the hat you match is already taken. That's part of the big lesson - you win some and you loose some. This is marked for 4 & up. We'd say the three attributes at once may be a little challenging for young fours, but this is a fun way for pre-readers to sharpen their skills at seeing several attributes at a time. There are 35 hats, 4 slammers and three dice.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
Honeycomb
(International Playthings $19.99 Score:)

A honeycomb shaped playing board mimics nature but gives strategy gaming a new look. A spinner tells what color comb you must push out of the honeycomb - but watch out! Be careful not to let the bee on top fall! It's a game that requires dexterity as well as strategy. Loading the honeycomb also calls for patience and thinking. Marked for 4 & up, this is more like a 5-6 & up game. A good one for family fun.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Awards
ELC Stacking Faces
(International Playthings $14.99 Score:)

A wonderfully designed set of four stacking cups with amusing faces clipped to the side. Use them for nesting, stacking, pouring and sprinkling. Each of the cups has sprinkling holes that make them ideal for experimenting with in the bathtub. They are wider than most stacking cups and easier to grasp by the rims or faces. Also, thanks to the holes in the bottom they are safe and will not pose a hazard that solid cups can do. They are also of unusual sizes; the tallest being the inside one and almost transparent for looking through. The bottom cup is 4 inches wide and the set stacks to 6 inches high.  These will also make good beach toys for sifting sand or water. 6 months-2years. 

SNAP: Big and easy to handle cups that empower kids to stack, nest and best of all use for fun in the tub.

Age: Infants, Toddlers. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Awards
Little Tikes Discover Sounds Activity Garden
(Little Tikes $79.99 Score:)

Here's a little setting that will be enjoyed as a baby grows from crawling to toddling and even beyond. A soon-to-be three spent a happy time testing all the bells and whistles of the Activity Garden. It is not so much about gardening as it is about making things happen. There are doors to open and close and window with built-in ball run and shutters for games of peek-a-boo. The doorbell has a three buttons that activate three pleasing sounds. A crawl through archway will be fun for active play. There is a mailbox shape, movable bugs to slide, pictures to click, and a detachable three-language phone with buttons that say the numerals baby presses in English, French or Spanish. This is a wonderfully inviting play setting with a terrific variety of activities for fine and gross motor skills. You can convert the four-walled setting into an open one, but we found it is less stabile in the opened positions. This does require assembly, but it went together with relative ease.  It is a big toy, almost 34 by 25 inches.  If you have the room it will be used for a reasonably long time.

SNAP: A good choice for active play that can be enjoyed by children with physical challenges, even if they can not stand. A variety of play modes here that empower kids to make things move and sound.

Age: Infants, Toddlers. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Awards
ELT Click-Clack Caterpillar
(International Playthings $59.95 Score:)

A two-sided toy with fast click-clack segmented car that runs down the track on one side and a ball run on the other side. The ball run moved slower for tracking, while the little segmented car whizzes on down. Toddlers love the repetition of this kind of toy. They can play this with sound effects, music, or with the sound switch off. Just the motion of the car or balls produces sounds. There is also a most welcome volume control switch. A great 1st birthday gift! 12 months-2.

SNAP: A good choice for visual tracking, since the ball run moves slower than most. This is one of those toys that develops dexterity as well as hands on experience with cause and effect.

Age: Toddlers. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Awards
Little Hare Puppet
(Folkmanis $12.95 Score:)

This small hand puppet will not overwhelm the hand of a small child. It looks amazingly lifelike - not the usual pastel Easter bunny. A lot more like the ones in the garden that nibble, nibble. Also in the same collection, a Little Raccoon and a Little Chipmunk that would make good companions in scale and authentic looks. For extra dramatic moments, add the swampy green Little Alligator, a scruffy looking jungle Little Lion or for woodland adventure add the Little Bear.

SNAP Adaption: for kids who cannot manipulate hand puppets, put them on top of cans or plastic bottles that can be slid around a table top. This group of puppets is made smaller than many and may be easier to use on the hand or over containers.

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
American Girl Super Scrapbook Kit
(American Girl $29.99 Score:)

When you think of a scrapbook for school-aged girls, this oversized beauty looks as it should! There is a photo pocket on the front cover so she can change her picture from time to time. It's a good sized book (12 1/2  X 13 1/2 ) with 20 acetate covered pages to protect the photos, souvenirs, and work girls will do in designing their pages. It comes loaded with stencils, cut out shapes, journaling stickers, bubble stickers, gems and foam frames.  Each of the pages has color and patterns, providing colorful backgrounds for the personal items girls will add around their photos, programs, clippings, tickets stubs and other treasures. 8 & up.

Age: Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
LEGO Friends Olivia's House
(Lego Systems, Inc. $69.99 Score:)

Olivia's House with a bright raspberry pink roof is the big set in a new line called Friends, designed to attract girls to construction play. We had to check with LEGO to find out who is who in the back story.
There are three play figures named Peter, with a beard, Anna who is mowing the lawn and wearing a longish skirt; and Olivia in a miniskirt. Who are these people? Are they room mates? No, they are not Friends in the style of a TV sit-com. Indeed, it turns out Peter is the Dad and Anna is the Mom.
That said, we note Dad is sitting in an easy chair while mom is in the kitchen cooking. Olivia is pictured upstairs, maybe that is a computer in her lap. Our first reaction to this gender specific product was negative.
         After a lot of reflection, it's still not our preference, but we have to share that our testers generally loved the kits. The most important piece of feedback we received, is that girls that were not building (many had left LEGO behind after DUPLO) were now building, enjoying the experience and asking for more sets. So if pink is the only way to get girls building then--bring it on. Girls have traditionally been left behind in fields that involve spatial relationships and math; concepts that are built in to toys for boys who typically play with building sets. We still think that girls could build with the same primary colored bricks that boys use, but if this will encourage them, we would rather have them building than not. At least LEGO has tried to expand on ideas of what will interest school-aged girls by offering a vet set, an inventor's kit and a cafe. It's not about the mall and shopping which was the emphasis of  "girl's building kits" in the '90s.

       If you want all the friends, you will have to bring them home in their own separate kits. There is Emma who runs a fashion design studio--she's not just aspiring to be a model; Olivia has an invention workshop with robots; Stephanie has a Pet Patrol; and Andrea is in show biz. These 79-81piece sets ($9.99) would make good birthday gifts for party-goers. If you want something smaller, each comes in a mini 42-piece set with a smaller setting. The good news is that the settings mostly involve less stereotypical activities. Yes, there is a beauty shop that we would skip.  Our tester liked all the details in a setting called Heartlake Vet with Mia and Sophie working together ($39.99) It's a 343-piece set complete with office and stables and animal figures. We were confused as to Sophie's hat that looked more like an old time nurse's hat than a vet. Mia is also found at the Heartlake Dog Show ($19.99 ) 183 pieces with two pooches, grooming tools and TV cameras among other accessories.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
LEGO City Fire Plane
(Lego Systems, Inc. $59.99 Score:)

We always asked our testers "What if anything didn't your child or you like about this?" The answer here from both parent and child was a resounding "Nothing!" Our eight-year old tester loved building the 12 inch long and 17 inch wide fire plane, but best of all, he loved the dramatic play features--the bay doors that open and water bricks he could release to put out the fire in the trees! This 522 piece set comes with three mini-figures, rotating propellers, two trees with flames, fire-fighting tools, and an off road fire-truck with trailer and hose. Our testers mom was most enthusiastic about the value of this set for building as well as dramatic play. Her son also customizes his models after he builds them, though she noted that her frinds glue their kids' sets together to make them hold better for pretend play. The problem with gluing is that you can't reuse the bricks or customize once that is done.   Note: No actual water is used with this. Marked for 6-12. Probably best for 8 & up.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2012 Award
LEGO Creator Prehistoric Hunters 3-in-1
(Lego Systems, Inc. $23.99 Score:)

A three in one kit that means you can make three different models with the 191 pieces in this kit. The red, black and white pieces can create a two-legged T-Tex like figure; a four-legged creature; or a flying beast with a wide wingspan. This is a pretty complex model marked for 7-12. Also available several 3-in-1 minisets($6) with 69-70 pieces. There's a Mini fire rescuer and a Mini sports car. These would be good stocking stuffers or grab bag gifts for parties. For kids 6-12.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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