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

 


2012 Award
Lego Bricks and More Pink Brick Box
(Lego Systems, Inc. $14.99 Score:)

Designed to appeal to girls, this pink storage box filled with 224 pieces comes with building directions for building a house, vehicle, and outdoor area. While we still prefer the traditional tubs and buckets with primary color building bricks that are gender neutral and appropriate for boys and girls, we understand that some girls prefer these colors. Since building is such an important skill for developing spatial relationships and math skills, we would say pink building is better than no building. So, we avoid being absolutists on this subject. Unlike earlier pink block sets from other makers, the themes of most of the new girlie Lego collection doesn't center on malls and beauty shops. This set is marked 4+. We'd say these tiny pieces will be a challenge to many 4's and even 5's.

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

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Duplo Creative Sorter
(Lego Systems, Inc. $20 Score:)

Although all the bricks are big enough for toddlers to handle with safety, this 23-piece bucket is jazzed up with three different shape sorter lids that are way too hard for most toddlers, yet the package is marked 1/2-5. First of all there are as many as 6 openings in each lid. They are supposedly color coded-which would have helped some-but there are green shapes that fit in the red lid and blue shapes that fit in the yellow. All very confusing if you want to talk about matching and establish color concepts with beginners. Besides, the pieces have to be turned just so in order for the peg fittings to match the cut-out opening. This kind of precision matching calls for visual acuity as well as fine motor skills that are way too challenging for most little ones. By putting such a broad age range on the product, the label seerve no purpose. If you get this as a gift and you have a toddler, put the lids away for now and use the pail and blocks for a fill-and-dump toy and for open-ended building set to stack and snap. That alone will be more than enough for anyone under two. Before you start pressing kids to fit their bricks in the right opening, keep in mind that little children are learning about themselves as learners and toys that are beyond their developmental level can undo their confidence. It is far more important to build their sense of competence than to rush them with toys that are frustrating. Sorry, the age label on this keeps it from being a winner.

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

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2012 Award
CitiBlocs Glow in the Dark Blocks
(Citiblocs $29.99 Score:)

70 Glow in the dark and 30 natural blocks come in this new set of blocks. If you expose them to light for 10 minutes they will glow for over 40 minutes. These are fun to use separately or as additions to other building sets. We can report that they do work and add a new kind of sensory dimension to building fun. Build before bedtime and there is a nightlight when the overhead light is turned off. Also new this season, a set of Neon color Citiblocs.

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

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2011 Award
Playmobil Falcon Knights Castle
(Playmobil $104.95 Score:)

Our testers loved this large scaled castle from Playmobil. We're always clear to say the following about Playmobil builds: the directions could be clearer; the construction of Playmobil structures requires an adult; there are LOTS of pieces.  With all of those disclaimers, our testers consistently enjoy the product and the level of detail once it's put together.  Specifically, our experienced builders did have more difficulty this year putting the smaller castle in this line together. We recommend having two adults for some aspects of the build--to hold the pieces as the connections are being made.  We also suggest that large structures be built and possibley glued down on a board or table top where they will not be moved or knocked around. True, this means it is less open-ended than a set of block, that will also falls over with active play, but these large structures do become pretend settings that are fun to use, although they will surely require some rebuilding and fine tuning from time to time. Once this castle is put together, it is great fun. It has a main gate that you can crank close (and there is an "iron" gate to put down when you really mean to keep the bad guys out).  There are trap doors, walk ways and one really big tower.  Our testers also gave high marks the play figures (complete with period appropriate clothing) and spectacular horses as well. This is not a toy for preschoolers or even young early school kids.  The level of detail requires more dexterity than most kids under 8 bring to their play.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2011 Award
LEGO CITY Marina
(Lego Systems, Inc. $49.99 Score:)

A fun beginning build with a lot of pretend play possibilities on the other side. We recommend that if your child is new to LEGO--this will make a great parent/child build. While there are lots of pieces- there are really several smaller builds here- making it a little less overwhelming.  And if you haven't played with LEGO in a while--you'll find that the builds are put in separate clear plastic bags...so there isn't that same frustrating "I can't find it" feeling. 

Our testers liked that there was a two part structure that connects with a walk way. There is also a boat (that floats) and a little yellow dune buggy type vehicle. We love the little details on this set. The surf board, the windsailer, the lifeguard, the binoculars, the buoy..you get the idea.  There's even a harpoon in case you want to fish for your dinner.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2011 Award
LEGO STAR WARS Jedi T-6 Shuttle
(Lego Systems, Inc. $62.99 Score:)

What's super neat about this build, is how the wings turn from being horizontal to vertical. This kind of moment is exciting when you get it to work (as a builder) and even more fun to play with when you're using the Shuttle as part of your pretend play.  LEGO has a new circular piece this year that allows for this type of rotation. The shuttle comes with play figAnakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Saesee Tin, and Shaak Ti.  The set has 389 pieces so really designed for intermediate builders.  Also a favorite with our testers, Anakin's & Sebulba's Podracers (810 pieces)  - straight from the movie. The set comes with Watto, Sebulba, Anakin Skywalker, Wald, Obi-Wan Kenobi.
 

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens, Teens. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2011 Award
BrickStix
(BrickStix $7.00 Score:)

If you ever put decals on plastic bricks, you know how difficult it can be to get them on straight or to get them off later. BrickStix don't stick on--they do cling and are easy to remove and even reuse. Cleverly designed to fit on Lego-sized plastic bricks, they do require a certain amount of fine motor dexterity. In fact, young builders who like details may be willing to work at refining their eye hand skills to use these clever stickable graphics. There are several sets, each with 84 small clings that fit specific themes. The Metro set includes pictorial images and words like park, cafe, taxi, and open--signs that one would typically see in a city setting. We like the Transport set with speed limits signs, yield, stop, zig-zag, police, stoplights, and no parking signs. Similarly, there are clings for Rescue, Space, Shops, and amusing Splats. We suggest these are best for early school aged kids not preschoolers who will not have the fine motor skills to use them with ease. 6 & up.

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2011 Award
Superstructs Wacky Machines
(Waba Fun $65 Score:)

Newest set in a construction toy line we really love. Superstructs are like your old Tinkertoy set---on steroids! Kids can construct seven different models with this big 175-piece set. What's new are the 16 large gears that add motion to the Superstructs. It comes with a 59-page step-by-step building guide to help kids create a ferris wheel, clock, a drilling car, a thumping watch-ma-call-it, a three-wheeled car, a crane with gears and a lawn mower. Kids can build these or create structures from their own imaginations. Comes in a sturdy storage container. Pieces are dishwasher safe. 5 & up. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements.  We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2011 Award
Laser Pegs 3D Lite Board
(Laser Pegs $99.95 Score:)

Our testers enjoyed playing with this construction toy both in an open-ended manner and by following the instructions for building the 21 suggested models.  The set comes with a light board and 115 laser pegs (a satisifying amount).  The board comes with a AC adapter but can also be run on 3 AA batteries. To make the laser pegs light up, you need to make complete the electrical circuit by making the proper connection (the pieces have male/female receptors)-- so there's some science involved here.  The real fun comes when you turn off the lights and see your build aglow!  Our eight and ten year old testers found the instructions easy to follow.  Pricey--but well worth it!  We also recommend the company's new Bug kits. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements.  We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2011 Award
Constructibles Wacky Machine
(Mudpuppy Press $16.99 Score:)

Newest in this collection of 3-D cardboard construction sets. There are 25 wacky machine parts graphics on these cardboard playing pieces. Like Mudpuppy's City Constuctibles, these have a playful look and invite inventive ways of making connections. They come in five geometric shapes that are put together into open-ended structures. There is no wrong or right way to use these sturdy building cards. They develop kids fine motor skills as well as their problem solving abilities as they fit the interlocking pieces together and keep them from falling over. These are not flimsy, as many card sets tend to be. Best of all this is a toy for creative thinking as kids make their own structures. 4 & up.
The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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