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

 


2012 Award
K'nex Maxi Building Set
(K'NEX $12 Score:)

This is one of three building sets designed for beginning builders in the Kid K'nex line. Maxi, a yellow racing car has just 18 pieces and assembles pretty easily - with a little adult help, of course. The directions are pretty clear. You could call this Model Building 101. Best of all when the pieces are put together there's a vehicle that can be played with. It even has an extra set of wheels to roll on toy railroad tracks, a probable option for preschoolers. These are not Disney characters from Cars, but will please kids who are seriously into racing car mania. There is also a Tin Top Building set, 16 pieces and blue or the Roary Building Set with a red racer. All three come in canisters with a model on top and the canister will be fun in the tub for sprinkling since it has holes in the bottom for safety. Though kids may like to build and rebuild, be forewarned, getting the pieces back into the cannister is not easy. It is marked 3 & up, though we think threes are going to need a lot of help with this. This will make a good birthday party gift for fours and fives, especially if you are doing a lot of party going and need multiple gifts.

 

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012.

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2012 Award
Quercetti Georello Basic
(International Playthings $19.99 Score:)

The newest in a Quercetti gear construction set with 80 pieces. Use the patterns shown to create a gear board "machine" with connecting gears or a standing animal form. Once kids get the hang of it, they will be exploring ways to fit the gears together in their own designs. There are lots of little pieces here, so this is one of those terrific toys for building dexterity for school age kids. It should not be anywhere around younger sibs or those who still mouth their toys.They say 4-8, we'd say this will be a stretch for 4's and some 5's.

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

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2012 Award
Hape Totter Tower
(Hape $39 Score:)

Play one of many balancing games or use the lovely wooden playing pieces to build amazing structures! The edges of the 24 hollow wooden rings are flocked with a velvety finish that helps them stick together. There are six different size and shapes to these bamboo rings with endless possibilities. Making the stand at crazy angles or stacked upright, these are an invitation for creative thinking as well as game play. An interesting toy for developing eye-hand dexterity as well as spatial awareness. Soooo good! 3 & up.

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

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2012 Award
Laser Peg Bot
(Laser Pegs $19.95 Score:)

Want a fun introduction to circuits?  This intro set from Laser Pegs comes with instructions for 6 different models, but our testers loved treating this as an open-ended set. Make the connection between the pieces and they light up.  The low watts come from the 3 AA batteries (not included).  The company makes more extensive (and expensive kits)-- one of our favorites was last year's award winning 3D Light board.

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

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2012 Award
Magformers Carnival
(Rainbow Products $79.99 Score:)

Welcome back! We have been long time fans of magformers but they were unavailable for a while. We like that the magnets in these sets are completely encased, so there is no danger of magnets going into kids mouths or beyond! Yet, they hold together well and this new set, has ideas and instructions for making mini spinning carnival like rides. This set comes with two play figures that can ride the Ferris wheel and cyclone type structures that kids can build. The set has 46 pieces and a stand.  6 & up.

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

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2012 Award
Lego Friends Heartlake Dog Show
(Lego Systems, Inc. $19.99 Score:)

A good place to start with this new collection. It includes Mia, 2 puppies, a podium with runway as well as a grooming area. And what would a dog show be without a trophy stand? Our tester liked all the small details: camera, bows, brushes, plate, bones, flowers, see saw, hurdle and flags. Building is just the first part of the fun. Our tester really liked using the props for pretend play. 183 pieces. Marked 5-12. We also had positive reviews for another smaller starter set, Andrea's Stage ($9.99/87 pieces). 5 & up.

As we always note with LEGO sets, it's always better to start off with smaller sets. These allow your child to get used to the step-by-step instructions and build their sense of confidence as they go along. While it may be tempting to buy the "big box" - hold off.  We have found this also is true with these sets. In other words, we found no real difference between boys and girls in this regard.  Our testers, many building for the first time, enjoyed the experience of these smaller sets-and were eager to move to other builds.

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 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 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 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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