Educator, parent & kid testing goes into each product considered for an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award. We don't accept ads or charge "review fees" from manufacturers or publishers, so you know you're always getting independent opinions.
Every so often we get a note from a parent saying they bought a toy that's a total dud--"very disappointing--my child didn't know what to do with it. The toy just sat there and did nothing." But, a set of building blocks, a ball, a rattle, a doll; all of these basic toys do nothing and that is a good thing. In stacking the blocks, shaking the rattle, rolling the ball or chasing it, or talking to a doll, the child is the active player. At every age, play is a two way street. The toy is the tool--the child is the player.
For starters, parents have an important role beyond buying and unpacking the toys they bring home; they need to introduce a new plaything. For a sitting up baby, a soft fabric ball is basic gear that needs two players to connect in the very social give and take of games like roly poly: "Mommy is rolling the ball to you--oh, you got it! Now, roll the ball to Mommy!" These little back and forth games are a kind of social conversation that you share.
Similarly, a set of building bricks for toddlers needs modeling to start. "Let's make a long long road. How long can we make it? How high can we make a tower before it goes ka-boom?" Please, forget about the picture on the box. Reproducing models comes later. Building with your child gets them started. But taking over and building for you child diminishes important learning possibilities. Building develops children's dexterity, mathematical thinking, their problem solving skills, language and imagination. But first kids needs to explore how things go together. Making things that look like the picture on the box diminishes the learning possibilities that are built into construction play.
Wooden train sets with tracks are another kind of construction toy. Trying to make a roadbed of wooden tracks that connects is both the challenge and the fun. Play around together with the many ways to make a roadbed, modeling and discovering the multiple possibilities and then watch them go. Before long, you will be delighted with the kinds of flexible thinking kids are capable of using in creative ways. Forget about making a display table like the one in the store with tracks glued down. If you do that, you've lost most of the play values and learning involved in trial and error. Indeed that train will soon lose its interest.
Unfortunately, too many of the playthings made for kids do just the opposite of nothing--they do way too much with a push of a button while kids watch and the kinds of real learning that come from play are lost!
Posted: 2014-10-28 11:31:59
By: by Joanne Oppenheim
In a world full of toys that talk, walk and practically stand on their heads to amuse, the idea of puzzles may seem a bit dull or old fashioned. What does it do? Nothing? No, look again. Puzzles are brain and finger food. They challenge kids to see parts of an image that fit together to form a whole image. Puzzles require patience, thought, and dexterity as well--important skills that are also needed to read, write and solve problems. Whether you are shopping for preschoolers or tweens, add some puzzles to the mix. In fact, with older kids, why not clear a table and create a family puzzle spot that everyone can work on as they have a few moments. Young children like to work their puzzles more than once. Keep it simple for building a sense of success. One piece puzzles teach toddlers about having to turn the pieces to fit them into the slot. Two-piece puzzles teach them about part/whole relationships. Giving preschoolers strategies such as looking for the straight sides to make a frame, looking for parts that connect a figure, using the image on the box to find clues--all of these are teachable moments that help kids get it together. Here are some of our top picks from this season and a few from years past, as well.
Choosing books for beginning readers is all about finding books they can read with ease. If they have to sound out or wait for help with every other word, save that book for later. Select books that build confidence and allow kids to develop fluidity and their desire to read. Here are three new titles that do exactly that.
You don't need to bring home workbooks or flashcards to keep them nimble with numbers. In fact, either of those solutions are likely to be both dreaded and regretted. Giving kids comfort with math begins with everyday experience with numbers. Think of all the ways you use numbers; on the phone, prices in the grocery store, numbers on buildings. How about cooking together and using recipes that call for counting and measuring? Recipe too big, how abouot cutting it in half? Showing kids how math is needed in everyday life makes sense. Have your preschooler help with setting the table: how many forks do you need? How many napkins? Playing scrabble or monopoly with older kids? Give them the job of score keeper and banker. Along with classics like Dominos with young players and Yahtzee with school age kids Here are some more playful choices that will enhance their math skills.
Posted: 2014-06-25 10:52:14
By: by Stephanie Oppenheim
When you add up birthday party presents for all of your child's classmates, friends, teammates and relatives - it can get overwhelming and expensive. Add multiple kids to the equation and it can put a real strain on your budget. On the other hand, you want to give a memorable gift. Here are some of our favorites and several suggested by our testing families. The idea is to give a gift that matches the birthday child's interests without breaking the bank. Click here to see our best birthday present picks. Stephanie shared many of our picks on NBC's TODAY SHOW on June 25th.
Toy shopping is often a trip down memory lane. While looking for something new we often come upon something old that we loved as kids. In fact, toy store shelves are loaded with classics that have been loved by generations. We're not talking about Antique Roadshow toys, but the everyday playthings that you, your parents, and even your grandparents played with--back in the day.
Remember the smell of Play-doh? The thrill of building a ferris wheel with your Tinkertoys? Of getting both Boardwalk and Park Place in Monopoly? Ah, those were the days! But do you really know how old were you when you enjoyed these and other classics the most?
Classic toys are usually safe bets. After all, they have stood the test of time. But bringing them home at the right time is key. Here are some updated Blue Chip choices for kids with a guide to bringing them home at the right time.
Posted: 2014-03-27 14:16:03
By: by Stephanie Oppenheim
Normally we review other people's books. Today it's my turn to give a huge shout out for Joanne's latest picture book! The Prince's Breakfast (Barefoot Books) focuses on a story that so many families can relate to - the prince doesn't like to eat anything! Joanne takes the Prince and his royal family on a fun globe-trotting adventure to find a solution. The book is beautifully illustrated by Miriam Latimer. You may remember the Prince, he had a hard time getting to sleep in The Prince's Bedtime. And to make things even better, the audio that comes with the book is narrated by Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville. To order your copy click here.
Math and Science skills--or the lack of them--continue to make the news. While educators debate what to do about it, what can parents do? First things first, avoid turning your child into a math phobic worrier with dreaded flash card sessions and extra workbooks. Forget about pre-teaching kids in hopes of giving them a leg up. Your way of doing math may involve techniques that are very different from current classroom methods. Click here for positive ways to help your child become a math whiz:
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