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Product Type: Toys
Age: Early Elementary School Years
Categories: Construction Toys

 


2012 Award
LEGO Friends Heartlake Vet
(Lego Systems, Inc. $39.99 Score:)

After building this set our test builder asked for more of the Friends collection for her birthday! She wants the Dog Show next. First step is building the office veterinary office run by Vet Sophie and her helper Mia. The buildings are interchangeable and have movable pieces so the building can be designed and redesigned. The set includes Mia, Sophie, a horse, dog, and hedgehog. It includes aquarium, examination table, mailbox, horse pen, hedgehog cage, x-ray and scale. Our tester especially loved all the small details, as well: a thermometer, clipboard, ice pack, stethoscope, spoon, syringe, registration chart and flower accessory pack with 3x4 flowers, 4 butterflies and 4 ladybirds. 343 pieces. 6-12

Note: 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 andasking 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 that are built in to toys for boys that typically play with building sets. We still think that girls could and should 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.

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 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 Creator Propeller Adventures
(Lego Systems, Inc. $19.99 Score:)

Take your choice and build one of three different models or build one and then take it apart and try the other two. This features a handsome propeller plane with working props and landing gear that fold up and down for landing and take-off. After playing with that gets tired, convert the prop plane into a sleek stealth-like fighter plane or reuse the bricks and props for making a powerful looking hovercraft. Three challenging builds with clear directions and the need for plenty of attention to details. 241 pieces. Designed for 7-12.

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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Duplo My First Build
(Lego Systems, Inc. $24.99 Score:)

This set might have been an award winner, but it is one of those toys that comes with such a broad age label that it may end up fitting no one! My First Build comes with 59 bright blocks and elements plus four cards that are designed to help your child select the pieces needed and 'visualize the build' before they start. The cards are like a matching game that guide the builder step by step. We think this may be useful for older fours and fives, though way beyond most of the age group listed on the box, which says, 1  1/2 -5. We also think that some of the pieces are a bit too small for toddlers who typically still mouth their toys. The hose for the "gas pump" is long and snake like and sure to interest toddlers who frequently taste and chew on their toys. Although the toys appear to have passed the choke tube test, by being too long, many do fit down a toilet paper tube and are therefore a close call from our more guarded point of view. Why take the risk of having a toddler gag on a toy? We suggest you remove the hose and flowers if your toddler receives this set. We also question the value of building cards for this age group.
We do not believe preschoolers need to replicate a boat or vehicle others design rather than discovering how the blocks can combine to make objects of their own imagining. Developmentally, this proscribed kind of building is really far more appropriate for older children who want to make representational constructions. Young preschooler and certainly toddlers benefit more from exploring and discovering for themselves how to make their own symbolic settings. They often name something after they build it rather than setting out to make an object. This set includes a Duplo man figure, dog, windows, chair and cash register.

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

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2012 Award
LEGO Fun with Vehicles
(Lego Systems, Inc. $29.99 Score:)

Kids love to build toys that work and this 525 piece set comes with mechanics and all the parts needed to build five vehicles. These are building plans for building and assortment of racing cars, tow truck, flatbed, jeep and convertible. The set includes 2 male mini-figures, wheels, tools and color-coded basic elements
This set is marked for 4+, but for those with limited dexterity, this may be a better choice for 5's and 6's. The step-by-step plans are clear, but younger kids will need help in learning how to "read" the drawings.

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

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2012 Award
Lego Ultimate Race Set
(Lego Systems, Inc. $26 Score:)

Based on the Disney Pixar, Cars, this racing car set features Raoul CaRoule, the world's greatest rally car that is about to race his biggest rivals, Lightning McQueen and Max Schnell. Can Raoul win the race or will he be our maneuvered? First players have to assemble the cars and slammers. There are three separate building plan booklets that show step by step how to build the racing pieces. Hit the slammers to see who is the fastest! Includes the following vehicles: Lightning McQueen, Max Schnell, Raoul CaRoule and Raoul's pittie. This is the kind of set that does more than gather dust on a shelf. It's a fun setting to play with when the building part is done. It's marked 6-12 but kids at the younger edge will need help with the building.

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 Garbage Truck
(Lego Systems, Inc. $24 Score:)

Part of the easy start modular build kits, this new garbage truck is bright green and white and assembles with 208 pieces. It includes two play figures, a lifting rear loader, two trash bins, shovel, brush and some plastic garbage, i.e. a fish and banana. The truck measures over 8" and will add to the city scene.  Others in the collection this season include an ambulance and firetruck. We know kids at the younger end of this will need help with the plans and small pieces. 5-12

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 Town Ambulance
(Lego Systems, Inc. $23 Score:)

Call 911! There's an emergency. We need an ambulance! This set includes the makings for a 6" long ambulance with opening rear door, a removable stretcher, movable roof, and three minifigures--2 doctors and a patient. There is also a bicycle, helmet, trash bin and doctor's equipment. Like the City Fire Truck and Garbage Truck, this is marked and easy start modular build for 5-12. We know kids at the younger end of this will need help with the plans and small pieces.

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

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