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Product Type: Toys
Age: Late Elementary School Years

 


2013 Award
Deluxe Roominate
(Roominate $49.99 Score:)

Welcome to a new world of doll houses! It's a doll house for kids to design, build and electrify. This one is less about interior decoration and more about engineering. A terrific concept for getting girls involved with problem solving and spatial skills, and building circuits. The deluxe kit comes with a light and motor and tons of building pieces and craft materials. Elizabeth, our 8-year old tester, LOVES Roominate. Her mom reports, "She has created some really cool rooms--and I love that it's so open-ended. She loved hooking up the battery, doing the wiring - and using the paper to design the wallpapers. It's a great toy for girls because it encourages building, electrical and engineering skills and isn't too "girly." I would say that I think age 6 is probably too young for independent play with Roominate. At age 8,  Elizabeth read and followed the directions and had lots of ideas about what she wanted to build and how to do it. "

The company says 6, we agree with Elizabeth's mom and suggest you save this for 8's and up.

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

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2013 Award
Hot Wheels Wall Tracks Power Tower Trackset
(Mattel $44.99 Score:)

If you're a fan of Hot Wheels Wall Tracks, you'll want to know about this latest addition to the line. The Power Tower features a central corkscrew track that brings the cars up to the top of the structure. Comes with one Hot Wheels car (we always think these sets should come with at least two!) and the magical 3M Command Strips that make it possible to temporarily place the structure on the wall. (We'd recommend not placing on wallpaper. During one of our first trials we did not pull the strip down sufficiently and as a result removed some paint from the wall. This was on us. If you follow the instructions, the Command Strips work well.)

This set kept three of our toy testers well entertained. What's nice about these sets is that they can be combined with others to create a truly amazing wall of tracks. Something some of us only dreamed about as kids!

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

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2013 Award
LEGO Galaxy Squad Hive Crawler
(Lego Systems, Inc. $69.99 Score:)

"One of the most unusual LEGO builds, ever." "Awesome."  We agree that the Galaxy Squad line has some of the most creative builds this year.  The Hive Crawler, in particular, has interesting moving legs that make a great sound as it moves. The minifig in the front opening cockpit reminds us of the bad guys from Independence Day. The Crawler has an egg launcher and two hatching eggs.  The build also comes with a smaller speedster and hero.

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

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2013 Award
Rainbow Loom
(Rainbow Loom $34.99 Score:)

The Rainbow Loom is clearly the run away toy of the year! We started getting emails from our toy testers about the must have loom that has generated so much interest (and youtube how to videos). We love a toy story that involves a small company that just hits it  HUGE.  Our parent testers told us that they helped their kids get the hang of it, but once kids learn how to use the loom they're off and running. A great craft that allows kids to make bracelets for themselves, their friends and family members.  The set comes with a loom, hook, instructions and more than 600 latex free rubber bands - will make 24 bracelets. Move over Elmo, the Rainbow Loom is the hot toy of 2013.

 

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

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2013 Award
LEGO STAR WARS Headhunter
(Lego Systems, Inc. $49.99 Score:)

One of the intermediate builds from the new Star Wars collection for 2013, the Headhunter got high marks from our testers even though it's not from a major scene or have a famous minifig. Our tester reported: "We've built a number of the starships and most of them are not sturdy and the wings fall off and need rebuilding when you play with them. This one is impressive and sturdy." The build comes in four bags. Our tester loved that three of the bags included a minifig - keeping the interest going as the build progressed. Comes with a Jedi who has 4 arms and 2 double lightsabers. This is not your father's Star Wars!

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

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2013 Award
LEGO City Grand Prix Truck
(Lego Systems, Inc. $29.99 Score:)

While Star Wars often gets the lionshare of requests from our LEGO builders, some of their more traditional trucks got rave reviews from our testers. This Grand Prix Truck received high marks because it was an interesting build. The truck opens in different ways to make room for the Gran Prix car (which "you also get!!").  With 315 pieces this is a satisfying challenge for a beginning builder. The box says 5 & up -- most fives will need assistance, which is fine.  In addition to the truck and the racing car, the set comes with three minifigures so there's lots of room here for pretend play after the building is complete.

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

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2013 Award
Backyard Safari Critter Shack
(Backyard Safari Outfitters $12.99 Score:)

Kids can collect and observe their live finds in this clearview housing that works with wet or dry conditions. The clear view container is water-tight and has a mesh lid so critters can breathe. There is a sturdy carrying handle. 5 & up.

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

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2012 Awards
Creativity For Kids Complete Paper Making Kit
(Creativity for Kids $29 Score:)

Part Science/part art this is a kit with everything needed to turn old paper into new. Kids can make their own paper and decorate it for cards. Comes with shredded paper, but you can recycle the many kinds of paper that come into your home. The kit includes a basin, paper making tray, screens, sponge, paper punch, scissors, stencil and many more goodies. This is a kit that introduces how to create your own tags, cards and even jewelry.

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

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2013 Award
Demolition Lab Triple Blast Warehouse
(SmartLab $39.99 Score:) We had some disagreement about this toy with such strong opinions on both sides.  So if it sounds silly to have a toy that you build only to then blow apart - then know we hear you.  On the other hand, it is really fun and actually a hands-on physics lesson (energy, momentum and don't forget gravity). The kit also requires a great deal of building and patience for that very brief moment of glory in pushing the button that brings down your structure. In an age of videos, we imagine that kids will not only love building the warehouse, but videotapping the take down.  Comes with 100 pieces for building the warehouse however you feel on a particular day.

 

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

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2013 Award
Backyard Safari Mini Scoop Net
(Backyard Safari Outfitters $9.99 Score:)

Our testers fought over taking turns over who would use this sturdy net to catch moving things in their backyard. We don't usually recommend toys that involve fighting, but in this instance we simply suggest buying two. Great for catching pollywogs, butterflies, lizards or whatever. The lightweight net is perfect for wet or dry tasks and like your old Ivory soap...it floats! 

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

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