A Sneak Peek
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Posted: 2011-09-16 15:00:58 By:

 

Toddlers

Toddlers love making things happen, over and over again. Ball drops are always a hit with this age group. The idea is to pick one that is age appropriate. First, save ball runs with tiny marbles for later. At this stage, you want to be sure that the balls are oversized and will not pose a safety choking hazard. Secondly, we have found that balls runs with fewer bells and whistles are much more pleasing. We tested several other new models this year that were battery-operated and found that they were too frenetic and over the top. Here, less is definitely more.

Two favorites:

 

 

 
2011 Awards
Early Years Busy Ball Drop
(International Playthings $15.99 Score: )

Use the big yellow base and then stack these round chute pieces in almost any order. Baby will be ready for making things happen. Put one of the three see-through balls on top and watch it whirl round and round till it reaches the bottom. This ball drop stacks up over 12 " tall and has balls with colorful beads inside.   It is a basic for learning about cause and effect. Babies and toddlers love the repetitive action here and the sounds of the balls dropping. Chances are you will need to do the stacking at first, but you can depend upon their unstacking it.   Most of all tots love the repetition of making that ball roll down every time!   9 months & up.  The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements.  We did not independently test this toy in a lab. 

SNAP: Sing a little song as you play with this ball drop classic. Try it to Wheels on the Bus..."See the balls go round and round, round and round, round and round. See the balls go round and round all though the day." Now switch to " See the balls go down, down, down, down, down, down,etc. Make up other verses about the sound of the balls going plunk, plunk, plunk.

To reinforce color concepts sing about the color of the ball that is in action.

These kinds of made-up songs reinforce concepts such as color, action words,and sensory language in meaningful ways that are more memorable. It's not a quiz game, but a playful way to use language and interact together.

Age: Infants, Toddlers. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 

 
2011 Awards
Kidoozie Stack 'n Roll Tumbling Tower
(International Playthings $24.95 Score: )

Love, love, love this new ball tower from International Playthings. Our toddler testers enjoyed watching the tower (over 2' tall) being put together and then dropping the ball into the top and watching it make its way down to the bottom. Toddlers love to make things happen over and over again--and this toy fills the bill.  Older toddlers also will enjoy helping with building the tower. It is a size order kind of toy that takes time to figure out. Use color words as you help put the stack up. The box says 12 months and up, but will be most enjoyed by older toddlers that can stand and drop the ball into the tower themselves. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab. 


Age: Toddlers. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

Sitting up babies and toddlers love a good game of peek-a-boo. This toy is spot on.

 

 

 
2011 Awards
LeapFrog Peek-A-Shoe Talking Octopus
(LeapFrog $30 Score: )

Ever thought of playing three card Monty with your baby? Well, that's sort of what the Peek-a-Shoe Talking Octopus does. It comes with four balls that slide down one of two chutes and asks baby to find where the ball has landed. Is it behind the red shoe, the blue shoe, or the green, orange, or yellow shoe? Baby lifts a shoe and the octopus reinforces the color name of the shoe lifted. There is also a  number mode and the shoes are marked with the numerals from 1-5. This is more of a toodler toy in the concept department, however, for kids young enough for this peek-a-boo toy, we'd say the cause and effect action will be rewarding.  Number recognition and color words are not top priority for the sitting-up baby who will chiefly like the repetition and peek-a-boo fun. With time, the simple color and counting concepts will interest toddlers as they grow into the next level. 9-36 months.

SNAP: A useful toy for reinforcing color names and numerals. There is no real counting involved here, but you can do that with this little game: Tell your child no peeking. Now, put a treat such as a cracker or small pretzel under the shoe with a three on it. Say to the child: Listen. I will clap to tell you where the treat is. Now you clap three times. Does the child lift shoe 3? Make a fuss if the child opens the 3 shoe and gets the treat. If need be, repeat the clapping and have the child count out loud as you do so.

Age: Infants, Toddlers. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

Preschoolers

For preschoolers, bringing home toys and props for pretend are always great choices. By encouraging your child to spin their own stories or retell a familiar tale, you are developing both their language and creativity—both precursors to successful readers down the road.

Here are some outstanding choices in this category:

 

 


2011 Award
Manhattan Toy Puppet Playhouse Theater
(Manhattan Toy $64.99 Score: )

A purple and yellow tent that looks like an oversized wizard's hat. Kids can get into the tent through a roll up portion of the tent that can stay open with Velcro. We love the gold gossamer fabric that is used for the puppet theater curtain and as trim. Assembly is required but not overly complicated.  Great to pair with their wonderful line of puppets.  Puppets are a great way to build your child's storytelling skills and give them an opportunity to act out both pretend scenarios, and perhaps most importantly issues that they are working through.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2011 Award
Manhattan Toy Peter Pteranodon Puppet
(Manhattan Toy $30 Score: )

Get ready for a whole lot of growling when this oversized soft puppet is unleashed for action. It has an orange ruff on its head, a bright red face with a green beak-like snout, a huge red mouth that opens to revel a long red tongue, but no teeth! He has big scary eyes half covered in the metallic gold and orange. Peter Pteranodon's chest is covered with the same metallic gold and down its back is a patch of leopard-like spots plus a pair of bright orange wings. Pair this with any other puppets or bring home the other colorful dinos in their line, such as Trip Triceratops or Dave Dimetrodon.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2011 Award
Manhattan Toy Dave Dimetrodon Puppet
(Manhattan Toy $30 Score: )

Get ready for a whole lot of growling when this oversized soft puppet is unleashed for action. It has a blue ruff on its head, a bright yellow face with green freckles and a huge red mouth that opens to revel a row of razor sharp teeth ( not really sharp--they just look that way.) He has big scary eyes half covered in the yellow face. Down his back is a mane of creamy long hair and a metallic chin and neck that will cover a good sized arm. Pair this with any other puppets or bring home the other colorful dinos in their line, such as Trip Triceratops or the fearsome Peter Pteranodon.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2011 Award
Manhattan Toy Trip Triceratops Puppet
(Manhattan Toy $30 Score: )

Get ready for a whole lot of growling when this oversized soft puppet is unleashed for action. It has three green horns, a metallic blue body that will cover a small arm, a dotted ruff on its head and big scary eyes half covered in the orange face. Most of all the mouth is easy to open and close with its big red interior and tons of teeth--the better to eat with, my dear! Pair this with any other puppets or bring home the other colorful dinos in their line, Dave Dimetrodon or the fearsome Peter Pteranodon

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011.

 

 

 


2011 Award
North American Bear Nesting Puppets 3 Little Pigs
(North American Bear Co. $40 Score: )

What great gift idea! The mid-sized pig and littlest pig do nest inside of the biggest pig puppet. All are done up in pink velour. The big guy has 'I love bricks' embroidered on the front of his overalls. The middle one has 'I love sticks' on her overalls and the littlest one has 'I love straw' stitched on his. As for the bad wolf, he's a finger puppet stored in the big pig's pocket. This wonderful set is ideal for encouraging kids to retell a familiar story in their own words. In the recall department the embroidered images will help them retell the events. With so many puppets more than one player can take a role and help in the story telling. Just as they like rehearing a tale, they will enjoy retelling it with these props. Not only that, you can encourage them to tell the further adventures of these familiar characters. Being able to sequence the story and put it in their own words is an important pre-reading skill that develops language and recall. A good story needs a beginning, middle and end and this one has a strong storyline with room for all that huffing and puffing to make telling it good fun! Also available, a charming set with Goldilocks and the 3 Bears from the same maker. 4 & up.

 

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2011 Award
North American Bear Nesting Puppets- Goldilocks and the 3 Bears
(North American Bear Co. $40 Score: ) Here's a great gift idea! The Mama Bear and Baby Bear all fit inside the big Papa Bear. The big brown Papa has Goldilocks, a finger puppet with yarn pigtails, tucked in the pocket of his red overalls. Mama is in a pink flowered dress and Baby in blue gingham checks. This wonderful set is ideal for encouraging kids to retell a familiar story in their own words. With so many puppets more than one player can take a role and help in the story telling. Just as they like rehearing a tale, they will enjoy retelling it with these props. You can also encourage them to tell the further adventures of these familiar characters. Being able to sequence the story and put it in their own words is an important pre-reading skill that develops language and recall. A good story needs a beginning, middle and end and this one has a strong storyline with room for all that someone's been eating my porridge, sitting in my chair, sleeping in my bed! Kids love the repetition and the drama is sure to get more powerful as they grow into their roles. Also available, a charming set of the 3 Pigs and the Bad Wolf from the same maker. 4 & up.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2011 Award
Chuggington Wooden Railway Trainee Roundhouse Set
(Learning Curve International $119.99 Score: )

The middle sized set in this new series of trains from the folks that brought you Thomas the Tank. The set comes with 32 pieces of wooden track with plastic/wooden accessories. The set comes with two trains (Koko & Brewster) and a roundhouse that can hold three engines. One of the nice features of this series is that the accessories come apart so that they can be used in more than one way. For example in this set, the clock tower can stack on top of the roundhouse or be removed and used as a small tunnel elsewhere. Our testers have generally loved these sets but have noted that the tracks do not stay connected as well as the Thomas sets (which is odd since they're made by the same company!).

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

Games

If there was one take away trend this year, it would be that this is the year of the game. Across the board, in all age groups and in all price ranges—there is a game for you and yours. Here are just a few of the outstanding games from our Platinum List.

 

 


2011 Award
LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer Tablet
(LeapFrog $99 Score: )

When we first saw the preview of LeapFrog's LeapPad, we were hopeful that the final version would really be all that they promised: age appropriate, easy-to-use and engaging to a generation of kids that expect great graphics, games, and speed. (Sometimes what we see at preview doesn't always translate into the final product.) We're happy to report that the LeapPad really delivered on all counts.

Let's address the elephant in the room. The LeapPad is not your iPad. In many ways, we think it's better.  Well, better for the young audience for which it was designed. At $99, the white, lightweight tablet delivers satisfying speed and graphics to your older preschooler and early school age child. Unlike your  iPad, everything is meant for your child.  The games pull from LeapFrog's library of 100+ educational games- so you can select those that are most appropriate for your child and her needs. You can use all Leapster Explorer games and apps you already have- also a plus.  Our testers also loved exploring the art program- here's an example of where an adult may want a turn!  The LeapPad also has a built in camera and video camera. All in all- a great use of technology that will entertain and engage your child.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2011 Award
eeBoo Obstacles
(eeBoo $17 Score: )

Looking for an open-ended cooperative game that will wake up the imagination?  Try Obstacles!

Players take turn putting down an Obstacle card--a picture of a swamp, a desert, a maze or other challenge. Players then use smaller cards such as a vine to climb over, a vacuum cleaner to make a path, a cookie with magical powers. The solutions are  pictures of familiar items. The player have to come up with the imaginative ways to use these items to get from one obstacle to another.   This is a fun game for 2-5 players. 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. Award Year: 2011.

 

 

 


2011 Award
City Square Off
(Gamewright $19.99 Score: )

Know a city planner in the making? An interesting new strategy game that you play head to head against one other opponent. Each player gets to select a building to place somewhere on their grid. On each turn you pull a shape card that dictates which of the differently shaped tile pieces to place around your building. The key is to make sure that you always have room to place the next tile without going outside the city limits. A fast-paced game that helps work on visual discrimination, spatial relations, and ability to problem solve. Also a great way to discuss your own city planning...something many kids (and grown-ups) take for granted. 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, Tweens. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2011 Award
Connect 4 Launchers
(Hasbro $29.99 Score: )

Once again Connect 4 has a new look with launchers that make it a new kind of challenge. You no longer just need to get four of your playing pieces in a row; now you need to get them onto the playing board with a launcher. It's a bit like tiddly winks with horizontal as well as vertical dimensions. This is a fast paced game that doesn't make the original game obsolete. It's really a totally different game with more physical action, since players will need to pick up the pieces that miss the board.

Our tester's mom wrote that her eight-year old daughter "was hysterically laughing the whole time (we both were) because it was fast-paced and fun and the game's outcome could change at any time." She says that she loves "games where kids and adults have the same chance of winning." The only problem they had was "when the launchers would shoot the wrong way- sometimes straight up at our faces (perhaps because we were playing on low pile carpeting?)" Her daughter wanted to tell us right away, "what a great game she thought it was....simple, silly and super-fun!"

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: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 

 


2011 Award
Tic Tac Turn
(Briarpatch $24.99 Score: )

Older kids will like the challenge of this four level tic-tac-toe game with an added twist--playing platforms that turn. Players need to get four-color pieces in a row. They can line up their pegged playing pieces diagonally or vertically OR they can use their turn to rotate one of the levels to change the game. This is a three-dimensional game platform that requires some looking ahead and strategy skills. It's not easy, but it is good fun! 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, Tweens. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

Building Set

 

 


2011 Award
LEGO Space Alien Mothership
(Lego Systems, Inc. $59.99 Score: )

One of the most interesting builds we've tested from LEGO. The set includes a new circular piece (that is being used in several new sets this year)...it allows the center part of the  space ship to rotate around completely.  Very cool!  This large mothership has a alien that pilots his ship from a center cockpit.  There is also the added fun of an alien sound effect button when you turn the center piece. All in all - a satisfying build that produces a sizable spaceship.

Age: Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

Attention all Hot Wheels Fans

 

 


2011 Award
Hot Wheels Wall Tracks Starter Set
(Mattel  $49.99 Score: )

If you grew up playing with Hot Wheels, then you probably dreamed about putting your tracks on the wall. Having spent a good part of my childhood with running tracks down the staircase...I was really excited to see this set at toy fair.  Having just tested this set, I am happy to report that the news is good. Hot Wheels has joined forces with 3M to come up with brackets that can be put up on your wall without damaging your paint (they warn not to do this on wallpaper...makes sense).  It comes with clear instructions that tell you where to place the brackets at each level. All of this will require adult supervision--and you may have to adjust some of your tracks--but it works.  It rarely works perfectly--something that didn't bother us or our testers since we think that's part of the fun.

The Starter Set comes with one car and has a big loop-de-loop that's fun and works well with the lighter car it comes with. We found that the heavier car packed with one of our favorite add-on sets did not handle the loop very well, but did very well on the track packed in the add-on set.

Of the add-on sets, we'd highly recommend the Daredevil curve that has a wonderful mechanism of turning the car as it makes a 180 degree turn on the track. Very cool. The Downhill Flip Drop also has fun action and worked well with the starter set. Our testers also liked the bridge and cityscape featured with this set.

We'd pass on the Drift Rally Spinoff that had a bumpy green road section that stopped our cars almost every time. It just didn't work as well as the other sets.

One disappointment. We have so many Cars 2 fans (not made by Hot Wheels, but made by Mattel that now makes both Hot Wheels and Matchbox). Sadly these cars were all too wide for the Hot Wheels tracks.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 
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