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Product Type: Toys

 

V Smile
(V-Tech $49.99 Score:) We plugged V Smile in and found it all to be so frenetic and certainly not age appropriate for 3's and up-as it is marked. We were playing the easy games and could not imagine how young kids will deal with the pace, content and levels of difficulty. The arcade formats may be easier to play because the joystick is bigger for small hands-but the skills involved are not intuitive…it's not like a touch screen where kids have more direct control with a finger or stylus. Threes, fours and most fives are not ready for letter sequences or spelling. Toys that push skills that are more appropriate for early school years give kids a poor sense of themselves as learners and apprehension about learning altogether. About the only age group the content is really right for would be the 6-7's --that is if what you want is to get them started on are arcade games that produce more agitation than education. We know this is getting a big play in the media, but we suggest you test it before you bring it home. A better choice from the same manufacturer is VTech's new and innovative Write N Learn Smartboard ($29.99). It is indeed a smart toy that works on letter and number skills in concrete ways that involve kids in writing and counting games. It recognizes the letters children write and names them! It has a magic quality that is sure to catch the attention of young players. This is a wise choice for a targeted audience that is learning to write and read. In other words, this is a smart toy that reinforces skills for late Kindergarten, first and second graders. It goes at your child's pace- not the stressful world of arcade gaming. UPDATE 2007 A console that also plugs into the TV and specializes in drill-and-review games that usually borrow from arcade formats. While seven year olds often enjoy reinforcing what they know, the pace of this product is way too fast to “learn” from and certainly way beyond the preschool crowd (its targeted audience). New for 2007 Art Studio and Dance Mat did not receive good ratings from our testing families. They complained that the games were not responsive and they disliked the graphics. (800) 521-2010.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2007.

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Cool Crew Magic Talking Kitchen Crew
(Playskool $39.99 Score:) Smaller than your average toy kitchen, this is more of a novelty item than the kind of play setting that should be open ended and have long term play value. It’s only 17.6 X 16.2 X 8.6. Hardly big enough for even pretend chefs over the age of 2 and a half. We don’t think kids need anthropomorphic doors that talk and ask them the same question again and again. For toddlers who are still sorting out real from make believe this kind of cartoon-ish toy only clouds their thinking. Young children are magical thinkers by nature- but they come up with enough magic without the added confusion of stoves with eyes and mouths that move. Nor do kids need toys that crack corny jokes. Keep in mind that these seemingly cute extras are apt to get “tired” with continued use. True, the price is low for a toy kitchen, but that’s about the only thing it has on the plus side. Think of a toy kitchen as an investment toy that will be used for three or four years and then can be passed on to another child. This is not that kind of kitchen.

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2004.

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2005 Awards
MagneBlocks
(MagneBlocks $10 Score:) During the past few years we have seen an abundance of magnetic toys. This is a new concept that works differently from the rod and ball construction sets. It comes with colorful cubes, pentagons, prisms, pyramids, tetrahedrons, and steel balls. A challenging instruction guide walks players through interesting combinations that give children hands-on understanding of magnetic poles as they experiment with making complex shapes. These blocks come in smaller kits, but with limited pieces we suspect they will get little use. An excellent math and science toy that encourages children to use divergent thinking skills as they explore the physical attributes of various shapes and how they can be combined. With the big Constructa set ($99) the possibilities are endless. Be forewarned: Getting the pieces back in the box with the plastic holders is not likely. You can remove the liner or you may want to keep the pieces in an open basket on a coffee table for quiet moments.

Age: Early School Years,Later School Years. Award Year: 2005.

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2004 Award
Skrooz
(Progressive Trading Inc. $15 Score:) Here's a new twist on the rods and metallic ball construction sets. These new rods can be lengthened and shortened with a twist so they are more versatile than the original rods with fixed sizes. Add these to existing sets or start here with a 168, 84, or 42 piece set. Available in metallic or bright gem colors. These are compatible with the original MAGZ-X and the amazing new WEBZ from the same maker. Put these on the coffee table in your family room and let the fun begin! 5 & up.

Age: Early School Years,Later School Years. Award Year: 2004.

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2005 Award
WEBZ 108
(Progressive Trading Inc. $49.95 Score:) Another generation of magnetic connectors and steel balls have arrived in time for the holiday season. This amazing set has 48 gem-toned transparent web plates in three different sizes and 60 steel balls to create a never-ending variety of constructions. This set includes 3, 4,and 5-armed pieces that can be combined with bars and balls. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but lots of ways to experiment with creating domes, towers and other inventive creations. A smaller set, Webz 54 ($24.95)is fun but not nearly as versatile as the larger set. Both sets are compatible with Magz X and Skrooz- the original rod and magnet sets we have reviewed in the past.

Age: Early School Years,Later School Years. Award Year: 2005.

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2005 Award
My Hawaiian Hula Girl
(Kuleana Productions $19.99 Score:) This is an adorable fabric doll with a hula skirt and Lei, yarn hair and stitched features...and oh, yes, discreetly painted toe nails,too. Her arms bend and her hips sway with ease! From the company that make a wonderful video that teaches kids to do the Hula. See review of new videos "I Want To Be a Hula Dancer & Wear a Flower Lei".

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2005.

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2005 Award
Maask
(Blue Orange Games $19.95 Score:) Here is an unusual format for a concentration game. A wooden crown has hidden “jewels” that players try to collect. To do so they must unmask the covers on the jewels and find gems to match the dice they throw. Winner is the one with the most jewels. From the maker of Platinum Award ‘03 winner Gobblet Junior. A memory game for 6 & up. (415) 572-3885

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2005.

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2006 Award
Back Yard Flyer
(Kid Galaxy $15 Score:) "One of the best toys of the year" was the consensus among our tween testers. They were thrilled with this small blue and yellow plane that is launched by using the battery powered hand-held launcher. Everyone found the launcher easy to use and had a great time running after the plane that really took off! The company says that when the trigger is pulled the plane will fly for 30 seconds or more. It kept our testers (parents included) well occupied for part of an afternoon--even when it went flying into the neighbor's backyard! A great toy for the price. (While our testers gave rave reviews to this product, they found the company's remote control plane very difficult to make work.)

Age: Early School Years,Later School Years. Award Year: 2006.

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2005 Award
Nano Case Vehicles
(Mega Bloks $5.99 Score:) You need dexterity, patience and good visual skills to assemble these small vehicles with working parts. Some come with sound chips and all come in sleek cases that convert into play platforms. Collect them and link their roadways together. If you need a lot of not too pricey gifts for birthdays and holidays these sets are a classy choice-but only if the child at the other end loves the challenge of building and the staying power to get the job done. They say 7 and up- we ‘d say that only some 7’s will be able to do this without help. (800) 465-6342.

Age: Early School Years,Later School Years. Award Year: 2005.

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2005 Awards
Crawl N Fun
(Playhut $25 Score:) Testers giggled their way through this 6'-long tunnel as they crawled along! Also top rated: longer and more spacious Yellow School Bus and Red Fire Engine and a blue Deluxe Train engine. These each easily accommodate two kids for pretend fun. 3 & up. (888) 752-9488.

Age: Preschool,Early School Years. Award Year: 2005.

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