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

 


2013 Award
Mindstorms EV3
(Lego Systems, Inc. $349.99 Score:)

LEGO is rolling out a completely revamped version of the robotics kit for a new generation of kids. Knowing how essential smart phones have become, the new design enables them to operate their robots via their phones. The set comes with 17 suggested builds with three different levels of programming. Comes with a hefty price tag - but if you think of this as an after-school program in robotics, it seems more approachable.  We are waiting for our testers feedback. This toy made our Platinum Award list in 2007.

We sent it to a family with 4 builders (14, 12, 10 and 9 years old). The 9 year old let his brothers fill us in. They did a great job reviewing this product. Here's what they reported:  

Mindstorms is a really fun robotics set. It is really awesome because you can program it to do anything you want. The programing itself is very easy. You just click and drag, and it is very intuitive. There are more advanced setting if you want to be more detailed. The directions to build were easy to follow even though they were online. The robot that we built could track its remote and then when it got close enough, would shoot it with a ball. It could usually hit it within two or three shots. The set is made of Lego technics, which are a slightly more complicated Lego. But it makes building moving parts very easy. It comes with a touch sensor, a color sensor, and an ultra sonic sensor, so it can see where it is going. The sensors are really fun to work with, and you can make things you can't usually make. Over all it is a great robotics kit. One of the best I've ever worked with.
-14 year old

Mindstorms is easy to use and is appropriate for ages 10 and up. It comes with directions to make certain robots, but you can also make things you want. The directions are easy to follow, and the parts seem really durable.
-12 year old


...each robot has a specific mission. For the humanoid, you could set it up to find and shoot the remote control. And that was really cool. Also you could switch it to a mode where you can control it with the remote control. Each side of the remote would control a side of the robot. Or you could switch it to channel two and when you press forward, he would shoot low, and you press backwards it would shoot high. The remote control has 4 buttons and 4 channels. Which makes it pretty easy to use.
-10 year old

Here's what their mom wanted other parents to know:

The technic legos are more difficult to work with than regular lego blocks. The kids really had to pay attention to which piece they were supposed to take (a 6cm rod vs an 8cm rod to connect things made a big difference). I found the directions on the website a little trickier to follow than the ones in a physical book. But the kids didn't have as much trouble as I did. Also, some of the directions were harder to actually do like when you had to flip some pieces around that you had built to connect it to the wires. They were able to get them, but the 9 year old had to ask for help occasionally from the older boys.
They built the trickiest humanoid robot first...but were excited about all the different choices. I think they will make most of them over time. After they took the pictures, they were going to take it apart and try something else. Overall, very well done. But definitely for the older set of kids.

A picture from our testers:

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Age: Later School Years, Tweens, Teens. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2007 Award
Airport
(Lego Systems, Inc. $79.99 Score:) You can’t go wrong with any of the new airport/plane sets from Lego—they’re all Lego at its best in terms of design. Really depends on what size plane you want and how much you like helicopters. The Airport set is wonderful, comes with a passenger plane, control tower, and baggage truck. Our testers loved the see-through ramp to the plane and the revolving door. 5–12. The City Airport ($89.99/863 pieces 5) comes with two helicopters, a smaller plane, control tower, and vehicles. Marked 9 & up. Passenger Plane PLATINUM AWARD ($39.99/401 pieces 5) is fun to put together down to the beverage cart, swivel chairs, and cockpit controls. The age label 5–12 is misleading on both this set and the Airport. You’d need to be an experience Lego builder to do this on your own—although we agree that 5s would love to play with this plane after putting it together with a parent. For a chunkier plane, look at Airport Action on page TK. The City Hospital ($49.99/377 pieces 4) also has a lot of play value after it’s built, with building, helicopter, and ambulance. For race fans, you’ll want to bring home the Lego Competition Racers set ($64.99/573 pieces) that features a Ferrari, pit stop, and all the props for race day. 8 & up. (800) 223-8756.

Age: Early School Years,Later School Years. Award Year: 2007.

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2007 Award
Prehistoric Planet Dinosaur Fossils T-Rex
(Toysmith $ Score:) Much like their original sets, but now the pieces have a laminated design instead of plain wood. We tested the 40"-long T-Rex (watch out!). This is way too hard for 5s & up (as marked), but a good parent/child project. 9 & up. Still one of our favorites (but again needs parental help), B.C. Bones Empire State Building ($19.99 & up 4) one of a series of stunning wooden structures that includes the Eiffel Tower and Golden Gate Bridge. The company has updated their instructions, which we found to be an improvement but still not enough for the starting age on the box. (800) 356-0474.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2007.

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2009 Award
Wedgits Building Blocks Imagination Set
(ImagAbility $20 Score:)

There's something extremely elegant about Wedgits. The plastic shapes stack and combine together without effort, which makes playing with them so appealing. They have an open-ended quality to them that invites exploration. This isn't the type of building set that you make once - it's easy to take the pieces apart and try something new. A new 15 piece set is $20 and a good starting place. You can add to this set with more pieces, a base for building on, and patterns for older kids to follow. They have gender specific pink set, but we prefer the primary colors. Unlike many building sets, this does not have any themed pieces. The geometric shapes invite experiments with symmetry, balance and exploration with nesting, stacking, linking and wedging together the shapes to create designs. We gave the 60 piece Wedgits on Wheels an award back in 2006. But it was very pricey and really more appropriate for older builders. New this year are the Mini Wedgits, smaller sets for building a Mini Wedgit Frog, Dog or, Owl. The mini-sets can also be mixed in with the larger expandman sets. In such a high tech world, this may seem too old fashioned for some--there are no motors or lights, but it is still a very interesting toy.

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, Later School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2008 Award
Arena
(Playmobil $89.99 Score:) Playmobil meets the Gladiator, with this ancient arena that includes audience seating, trap doors to the lion cages, a wide gate, and a large battle area. Comes with eight figures, two lions, a double harness chariot, and more. One of the most unusual pretend settings we've seen in a long time! They say 5 & up, but will be of more interest to older kids.

Age: Early School Years,Later School Years. Award Year: 2008.

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2008 Award
Lego Creator Ferris Wheel
(Lego Systems, Inc. $69.99 Score:) We have to own up to our own love of ferris wheels. So we were delighted when both Lego and KNEX released new versions this year. While we are giving PLATINUM AWARDS to both the Lego Creator Ferris Wheel ($69.99/1063 pieces) and KNEX Double Ferris Wheel ($29.99/977 pieces), please note that the age label of 8 & up on both toys is ridiculous if you’re talking about independent building. On the other hand, these are both great parent-child projects that will be memorable. The Lego Ferris Wheel will sit nicely on a desk after it’s built. The motor will make the wheel turn in either direction. There are some steps where two sets of hands are a must. The K’nex Double Ferris wheel is huge (three feet tall) and you can have the wheels turning in different directions, very neat. Our testers thought that the initial directions for building the tower were the toughest in terms of spatial relations, but once you "got past that, it was a lot of repetitive building and not that complicated." Both the Lego and KNEX come with two other models to build with the same pieces.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2008.

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2008 Award
Lego Beach House
(Lego Systems, Inc. $29.99 Score:) Who wouldn’t like this bright contemporary looking yellow beach house with two big skylight windows and clear back doors that leads to a terrace. It has a satellite disk, BBQ, picnic table and umbrella, and hours of play build in to the fun. From Lego’s Creator line it’s cleverly designed to be converted to a café or a tall apartment building. A 3-in-1 kit with 522 pieces. Full of the kind of details that suits older builders. 8 & up. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2008.

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2009 Award
Lego Police Headquarters
(Lego Systems, Inc. $89.99 Score:)

Loaded with action, this is an immense building set with 953 pieces that will take days to assemble. Part of the City Collection, this multi-level huge police headquarters has a lock-up, of course, as well as offices, vehicles, satellites, and police figures. Build it together and then let the dramas begin. They say 6 & up. It is an elaborate set that will require an older sibling or adult if you bring it home for a 6 year old. It will be enjoyed by younger kids after it is built, but as a construction set, it will be an overwhelming challenge for solo building for kids under 8. Still, this is a wow-wee kind of gift for enthusiastic builders. Makes a good choice for those long rainy days when going out is not possible.

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: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2008 Award
Lego Creator Stegosaurus
(Lego Systems, Inc. $49.99 Score:)

With 731 pieces, advanced builders can build three different ferocious dinosaurs. The lead creation, Stegosaurus, has armor fins, moving jaw, spiky tail and eyes that light up! This is a challenging set, not for beginners! Knock it down and you can build T-Rex or Pterodactyl. 9 & up. .

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

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2008. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2008 Award
HearthSong Connectagons
(HearthSong $24.98 Score:)

Connectagons is an old-fashion kind of construction toy. The set comes in a wooden box with a slide opening--and inside there are 240 wooden discs. Each disc has eight notches-and there are five different colors. All in all, making this a very open-ended and pleasing building toy. Much like the magnetic toy sets of recent years, Connectagons is a set you'll enjoy having on your coffee table. There's no right or wrong way to build with this set -- appealing to both boys and girls (and their parents).

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: 2008. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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