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Product Type: Toys

 

Mgears
(Learning Resources $36.95 Score:) From the folks that brought you the open-ended Gearbotic sets (BLUE CHIP), here's a more advanced 350-piece set that comes with gears and a motorized wheelbase. We thought this was going to be a huge hit but our testers found the set difficult to do independently and then they didn't think the vehicles went fast enough. We still highly recommend the original nonmotorized BLUE CHIP Gears! Gears! Gears! sets because they are more open-ended and develop problem-solving skills as kids make their own moving machines. ($20/$40). Also new this year, Dizzy Fun Land ($36.95), a gear set with an amusement park theme that our five-year-old tester enjoyed. 5 & up.

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

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2004 Award
Lego Inventors Series
(Lego Systems, Inc. $14.99 Score:) (Lego Systems $14.99 & up ) These are more challenging sets that come with a motor. Once built, models can travel on ropes across your room. 9 & up. For beginning builders we still recommend a Lego System Classic Building Set BLUE CHIP (Lego Systems $3.99-$29.99) for more open-ended creations. 5-7.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2004.

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2004 Award
Quercetti Skyrail Suspension Marble Run Sets
(International Playthings $69.99 Score:) You need a lot of space and a good dose of patience to put this together (an adult is needed) but once you're done, you have a truly amazing structure. It takes some finessing to keep the marbles on the track, "but that's part of the fun." Not for the "it's got to work right out of the box" crowd. Marked 6 & up, but really, a grown up will be needed from beginning to end. For a simpler wooden marble run, consider the original BLUE CHIP Blocks & Marbles (Tedco $30 & up).

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2004.

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2004 Award
Empire State Building
(B.C. Bones $44.99 Score:) Our office is decorated with these stunning wooden structures that include the Eiffel Tower and Golden Gate Bridge. Our complaint with these beautiful sets is that there are no clear directions. The company insists that they make "puzzles," not construction sets. The company promises to post a cheat sheet up on their website. Still recommended, their Wooden Prehistoric Animal Models ($30 & up). Good parent-child projects. 9 & up.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2004.

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Erector Vehicles
(Brio $32 Score:) One tester told us that the starter set was hard but "awesome" while another said it was "way too frustrating." That's how it is with Erector sets—you either love 'em or you don't. That said, your best bet is to try a smaller "starter" set. Design Set 1 builds three different motorcycles and tested better than last year’s small models. New for this year, Design Radio Controlled 4x4 Truck ($100/618 pieces) is the first remote-controlled Erector vehicle. Builds three models with a 9.6V motor. For advanced builders, Renault Formula 1 Car ($200/809 pieces). Both looked promising, but were not ready for testing. 10 & up. (888) 274-6869.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: .

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2004 Award
Fancy Prancy Princess Tooth Fairy
(North American Bear Co. $14 Score:)

With a special little bag for a newly lost tooth, this little 8" fairy winged doll in lavender, yellow, or pink can wait up for the regular tooth fairy to arrive and leave something special for this major event. 5 & up.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2004. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2004 Award
Olivia Saves the Circus Set
(Madame Alexander $99 Score:) This collection is as scrumptious as Olivia herself. The Circus Set comes in a big hatbox with ringmaster, clown, tight rope-walker, and dog and lion trainer outfits. Lion, dog, and pop-up tent also included. Olivia's Trunk Set ($85) also is very special with Olivia plus ball gown, bathing suit, tutu, two dresses, and lots of jewelry. You can buy Olivia in her red sailor dress with her red purse, striped tights-with articulated ears. 3 & up.

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

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2004 Award
American Girl Kailey
(American Girl $84 Score:) The company alternates each year between historic dolls and current dolls. This year, Kailey is a very California girl with long blond hair and boogie board! Her story focuses on saving the tide pools from a local developer. Still top rated, Kaya, the first Native American doll from the Nez Perce people in the collection. PLATINUM AWARD '03. 7 & up.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2004.

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2004 Awards
Teaching Cash Register
(Learning Resources $44.95 Score:) A clever way to combine math skills with pretend play! When kids play store with this smart new register they learn to use a calculator, make change, use coupons and charge cards, and even check the customer's credit! It has a pretend scale plus a three-level coin game that asks kids to deposit specific amounts. The screen tallies and kids press enter to self-correct. Be sure the "CB" (Coin Bank) cover is snapped in place! Still recommended, the quiz-free Play Calculator Cash Register ($39.95). PLATINUM AWARD '00. SNAP: Use real coins for a knowing naming game.the calculator says the names of the coins in one mode and asks for certain coins in another mode. A good tool for building practical money-math skills. ACTIVITY: PLay a swapping game...trade two nickels for one dime...what other coins will you trade for another dime? Check out answers in the coin bank that talks on this toy. Play money or real work equally well.

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

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2005 Award
Sew and Decorate Lacing Puppets
(Lauri $4.99 Score:) Choose from a variety of precut felt puppets, such as a green witch, bunnies, bugs, or circus animals. New this year, a big Fairy Fantasy Set with six precut hand puppets and one finger puppet. Kids lace them up and use them for storytelling. Kits come with yarn and big plastic needle for sewing (which develops fine-motor skills kids need for writing). 5 & up. (800) 451-0520.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2005.

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