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Product Type: Toys
Award: Platinum
Age: Early Elementary School Years
Review Year: 2012

 


2012 Award
Honeycomb
(International Playthings $19.99 Score:)

A honeycomb shaped playing board mimics nature but gives strategy gaming a new look. A spinner tells what color comb you must push out of the honeycomb - but watch out! Be careful not to let the bee on top fall! It's a game that requires dexterity as well as strategy. Loading the honeycomb also calls for patience and thinking. Marked for 4 & up, this is more like a 5-6 & up game. A good one for family fun.

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

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2012 Award
LEGO Friends Olivia's House
(Lego Systems, Inc. $69.99 Score:)

Olivia's House with a bright raspberry pink roof is the big set in a new line called Friends, designed to attract girls to construction play. We had to check with LEGO to find out who is who in the back story.
There are three play figures named Peter, with a beard, Anna who is mowing the lawn and wearing a longish skirt; and Olivia in a miniskirt. Who are these people? Are they room mates? No, they are not Friends in the style of a TV sit-com. Indeed, it turns out Peter is the Dad and Anna is the Mom.
That said, we note Dad is sitting in an easy chair while mom is in the kitchen cooking. Olivia is pictured upstairs, maybe that is a computer in her lap. Our first reaction to this gender specific product was negative.
         After a lot of reflection, it's still not our preference, but we have to share that our testers generally loved the kits. The most important piece of feedback we received, is that girls that were not building (many had left LEGO behind after DUPLO) were now building, enjoying the experience and asking for more sets. So if pink is the only way to get girls building then--bring it on. Girls have traditionally been left behind in fields that involve spatial relationships and math; concepts that are built in to toys for boys who typically play with building sets. We still think that girls could build with the same primary colored bricks that boys use, but if this will encourage them, we would rather have them building than not. At least LEGO has tried to expand on ideas of what will interest school-aged girls by offering a vet set, an inventor's kit and a cafe. It's not about the mall and shopping which was the emphasis of  "girl's building kits" in the '90s.

       If you want all the friends, you will have to bring them home in their own separate kits. There is Emma who runs a fashion design studio--she's not just aspiring to be a model; Olivia has an invention workshop with robots; Stephanie has a Pet Patrol; and Andrea is in show biz. These 79-81piece sets ($9.99) would make good birthday gifts for party-goers. If you want something smaller, each comes in a mini 42-piece set with a smaller setting. The good news is that the settings mostly involve less stereotypical activities. Yes, there is a beauty shop that we would skip.  Our tester liked all the details in a setting called Heartlake Vet with Mia and Sophie working together ($39.99) It's a 343-piece set complete with office and stables and animal figures. We were confused as to Sophie's hat that looked more like an old time nurse's hat than a vet. Mia is also found at the Heartlake Dog Show ($19.99 ) 183 pieces with two pooches, grooming tools and TV cameras among other accessories.

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

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2012 Award
LEGO City Fire Plane
(Lego Systems, Inc. $59.99 Score:)

We always asked our testers "What if anything didn't your child or you like about this?" The answer here from both parent and child was a resounding "Nothing!" Our eight-year old tester loved building the 12 inch long and 17 inch wide fire plane, but best of all, he loved the dramatic play features--the bay doors that open and water bricks he could release to put out the fire in the trees! This 522 piece set comes with three mini-figures, rotating propellers, two trees with flames, fire-fighting tools, and an off road fire-truck with trailer and hose. Our testers mom was most enthusiastic about the value of this set for building as well as dramatic play. Her son also customizes his models after he builds them, though she noted that her frinds glue their kids' sets together to make them hold better for pretend play. The problem with gluing is that you can't reuse the bricks or customize once that is done.   Note: No actual water is used with this. Marked for 6-12. Probably best for 8 & up.

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

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2012 Award
LEGO Creator Prehistoric Hunters 3-in-1
(Lego Systems, Inc. $23.99 Score:)

A three in one kit that means you can make three different models with the 191 pieces in this kit. The red, black and white pieces can create a two-legged T-Tex like figure; a four-legged creature; or a flying beast with a wide wingspan. This is a pretty complex model marked for 7-12. Also available several 3-in-1 minisets($6) with 69-70 pieces. There's a Mini fire rescuer and a Mini sports car. These would be good stocking stuffers or grab bag gifts for parties. For kids 6-12.

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

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2012 Award
LEGO Fun with Vehicles
(Lego Systems, Inc. $29.99 Score:)

Kids love to build toys that work and this 525 piece set comes with mechanics and all the parts needed to build five vehicles. These are building plans for building and assortment of racing cars, tow truck, flatbed, jeep and convertible. The set includes 2 male mini-figures, wheels, tools and color-coded basic elements
This set is marked for 4+, but for those with limited dexterity, this may be a better choice for 5's and 6's. The step-by-step plans are clear, but younger kids will need help in learning how to "read" the drawings.

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

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2012 Award
Race to the Treasure
(Peaceable Kingdom $15.99 Score:)

We had good fun racing to beat the Ogre as we connected the pathway cards and collected the key tokens. This is a cooperative game that helps older players guide younger players with discovering strategy skills as well as learning to share decision-making. Set-up involves some math grid concepts, though the bigger lesson is teamwork with players beating the Ogre rather than each other.   It's an easy to learn game for 2-4 players that takes about 20 minutes and good for mixed ages. 5-50+.

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

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2012 Award
Snug as a Bug in a Rug
(Peaceable Kingdom $20 Score:)

A clever, fast, and easy-to-learn game that is played cooperatively. Put all the bug playing pieces on top of the rug. Players take turns spinning the spinner to find out what color bug they should remove and put under the rug. Once there is a color that cannot be found (this happens about half way through) you have to put a big grey stinkbug on the rug. Now the attribute that players have to find and remove changes from colors to big or little eyes. Watch out! You want to get rid of all the bugs before a second stink bug has to be added to the rug. The object is to get rid of all the bugs before all three stinkbugs are on the rug! Changing attributes calls for some flexible thinking.  A fun game for developing color, shape, and simple counting skills.  3-6

Age: 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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2012 Award
Kaleidograph Flora
(Red Hen/Kaleidograph Design $12.99 Score:)

A perfect choice for travel or quiet time play. Each set comes with 12 die cut cards that are brightly colored on each side. Arrange them and rearrange them making original designs as they are stacked or use the patterns poster to reproduce the patterns shown. There is a "flora set" with circular frame or the "crystal" set with more angular frame. Either set provides multiple possibilities for creative fun and visual experimentation. All store away in a CD style case for easy take-along diversions. 5 & up.

Activity: Give your child a chance to explore the cards for a while. Then open the poster and choose a design you'd like to reproduce. Note that each design involved three or more colors. Select the colors and then experiment with putting them in various layers until you find the order that reproduces the pattern you chose from the poster. A good game for enlarging color words, matching skills as well as shapes and sequencing - along with visual discoveries.

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

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2012 Award
The Original Egg Game
(egggame.com $$10 Score:)

In the middle of receiving what seemed like an endless supply of plastic toys (many, we should note are on our award list), arrived a package that seemed like a throw back to a different era. The Original Egg Game consists of a circular board (you can buy a small, medium or large board) that is made of particle board material and a stone egg.  For this holiday season, we received a Five board set in a big canvas storage bag. A great set for a group setting is $100. Or you can start with a single and grow from there.  Now, we have to tell you that if you have trouble spinning a top (like some of us at the toyportfolio, you may have trouble getting started).  You have to be able to spin the egg--and if you watch the video from the company they do provide a number of suggestions that proved to be most helpful!).  Specifically we found the two handed start method most useful.  In any case, once you get the egg going, how long can you keep it going--alone or with a partner holding the board.  This really becomes a group activity that invites group problem solving, trial and error...and along the way, there's a great deal of laughter.  You can purchase a  small board with one egg for $10 or the medium board (shown in the picture) is $20 and comes with two eggs.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens, Teens, Adult. Award Year: 2012.

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