COMMENTARY: Learning Healthy Habits Has Never Been This Much Fun!

As adults, we’re always obsessing over chasing that elusive 10 pounds that we gained so easily after college, but still haven’t figured out how to lose. Going to the gym and eating organic foods are second nature to those who have adapted healthier lifestyles in an effort to be at their best. It’s difficult to make those changes—switching french fries for brussels sprouts and being active instead of sitting on the couch all day. Why, then, don’t we give our kids a head start in this crusade? We should be teaching these healthy habits as early as possible.

eggplantAt Toy Fair 2014, there was one booth that stuck out to me, mostly because there was a dancing carrot in superhero gear in front of the ss-logotable. Hey, whatever you have to do! But the premise of this company is just that—to put a fun, positive light on vegetables and to get the attention of kids. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Not a Barbie Girl!

Barbie just celebrated her 55th birthday, and to commemorate the occasion, made a splash on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Wearing a skimpy, and quite-controversial, neutral-toned swimsuit, Barbie caused quite a stir. Many argue that it may be time for Barbie to finally step down as the queen of the children’s doll world. Nickolay Lamm, creator of the new Lammily doll, would certainly agree that there is a new girl in town: the “average is beautiful”-promoting Lammily doll.

Lamm claims that Lammily is the world’s first normal-sized doll. Last year, Lamm designed images of what he dubbed, “normal Barbie,” in an attempt to make the doll reflect the proportions of real female bodies. He used the measurements of the average 19-year-old woman from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and molded them into a 3-D model of Barbie.

lammilyBarbie’s unrealistic proportions have long been criticized by feminist campaigns. Although her waist was expanded and her bust made smaller in 1998, her figure remains significantly out of proportion and unrealistic for the average teenager. Studies show that if transformed into a real woman, Barbie’s 16-inch waist would be four inches thinner than her head. She would be required to walk on her hands and feet, as her 6-inch ankles and vast, missing areas of body would not be able to hold her upright. Studies also show that body image issues in young girls may be related, in part, to Barbie and dolls of the like, and that more than 50 percent of girls ages 9 to 10 claim to be, “on a diet.” This is deeply unsettling, and it seems that while no one thing can be blamed for this warped sense of body image in young girls, Barbie’s unrealistic figure can’t be helping.

Lammily represents something new. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Plush With a Purpose

Last week at Toy Fair, I was incredibly moved and encouraged to see so many toy companies giving from their compassionate hearts. When I was younger, I wanted to write about cancer research or world hunger. This week, Toy Fair reminded me that the toy business is an incredible outlet to make a huge difference, and these toy makers are using the toy industry to teach kids the importance of giving, love, and compassion. I’ve fallen in love with a handful of toy makers who are using their platform to make a real difference. Toys may seem trivial, but aren’t kids the ones in whom we delegate our future? [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Go! Go! Sports Girls Promote a Healthy Image for Girls

After struggling with self-image for many, many years, I feel that relaying the importance of confidence to a younger generation of girls is of the utmost importance. Young girls see and hear older women discussing hatred toward their bodies and the latest on fad diets; it’s such an unhealthy message to send. In a world where most “girl” action figures and dolls are stick-thin, and every famous tween girl looks ill-fed, a break in this trend is always quite refreshing. Go! Go! Sports Girl products offer girls products with a positive image to encourage healthy minds and bodies. The line was created after Jodi Norgaard had a disappointing shopping experience with her 9-year-old daughter, unable to find anything “stylish” that didn’t bare a stomach or involve high heels. Norgaard’s company, Dream Big Toy Co., aims to empower young girls with its motto “Dream Big and Go for It.” It seems that similar specialty toy companies have started to take notice, creating lines with a related approach.

ellaDream Big Toy Co. created Go! Go! Sports Girls as a fun and educational way to promote self-appreciation and the benefits of daily exercise, healthy eating and sleeping habits, self-esteem, and overall healthy life skills among girls ages 3 to 12, regardless of race and socioeconomic class. The Sports Girls are age and size appropriate, and most importantly, they do not encourage an older or overly mature image. The image is innocent with a strong message to girls about appreciating and being true to yourself. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Minecraft Brings A Whole New World

CARSONI admittedly didn’t know very much about the Minecraft toy and game selection until Halloween, when my uncle sent a photo of the costume that he had made for his son; who am I kidding—I knew nothing until then! My cousin Carson is a 5 year-old obsessed with the stuff! At the time, all I knew was that Carson could make anything look adorable, and that he had clearly moved on from trains and into this world where players can build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3-D generated world. I can’t even begin to understand all of the insider ins-and-outs of Minecraft, and it seems as though the name represents an entity of games and licensed products. I do, though, like to get as involved as I can with Carson, as I am much more aware of the favorites of his sister, Kennedy, since they were the same as mine: all things pink. Man, girls are simple! In time for the holidays, I took the game home to see what this Minecraft business is all about, so I can get those ever-elusive little kid “brownie points” while I’m home for Christmas. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Monkeez (and Others) Help Kids Make A Difference

monkeezIt’s the season of toys and giving, as the holidays are quickly approaching. December’s cheerful spirit is evident throughout the city, on social media, and in toy stores worldwide. Christmas lights are hanging everywhere, department stores are adorned with pops of red and green, and children are on their best behavior, hoping to fall on the right side of the naughty-or-nice list. Santa is taking last-minute requests from children who will surely receive their prizes for being good girls and boys all year long.

When I was a kid, my parents always took part in Operation Christmas Child, an organization that collects shoeboxes full of toys and non-perishable items to be given to children who wouldn’t otherwise have a Christmas gift to open, during this time of year. I loved getting to help put toys together to send to kids around the world, though I didn’t really understand exactly what it meant. Now, I see kids crying in department stores wanting their toys now, and I see lists of toys growing longer and longer. I’m all for it—‘tis the season—but I think it’s important that kids learn to receive with a grateful attitude, rather than an expectant one.

The older I get, the more bittersweet the holidays become. The music, ice-skating, tacky sweater parties, and family time are wonderful, but the receiving of gifts isn’t as satisfying as it was when Barbie dolls and Polly Pockets filled my Christmas wish list. It’s now apparent to me that so many kids spend Christmas without basic necessities, and certainly without gifts to open. I started researching major toy companies and realized that there are so many that donate to this cause in various ways. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Play Me a Song, Sweet Music Kit

rockstarlittleBits,the creator of an open-source library of electronic “Bits,” that snap together with magnets for learning and play, partnered with Korg, a leading global manufacturer of electronic musical equipment, to create a kid-friendly, music-making machine, and I was lucky enough to get in on the action. On November 7, the new littleBits Synth Kit was unveiled at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The collaboration of Korg with littleBits may not seem obvious, but it is actually genius. This new synthesizing kit is perfectly designed for the use of everyone—from professional musicians to hobbyists with an interest in making new sounds and pushing the boundaries in technology and music. Using the kit, music lovers can build infinite customizable sounds from practically anywhere.

littleBitsAt the event, attendees were given the opportunity to play with the brightly colored and multi-functioning Synth Kits, listening to the created sounds through Korg headphones. It was such a neat experience, as I felt like a music master using equipment like that used to produce the innovative sound of revolutionary bands such as The Beatles and The Doors, and modern artists such as The Cure and MGMT. It’s such an awesome way for kids to get involved in music at an early age. Yes, most children are able to utilize musical instruments and their voices, but this is such a unique opportunity for kids to get involved in the music production industry. Little musicians can explore the world behind the music with the sound of the synthesizer instrument. Even better, the “Bits” are interchangeable and can be constructed in different ways for different sounds, so kids can build their own sound machines and choose their favorite outcomes. The Bits modules included with the kits snap together instantly using magnets that create circuits. These circuits are similar to those used in Korg’s analog synthesizers, so the quality of these kits is amazing, truly. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Skylanders Swap Force Takes Over Times Square

Fans get in on the video game action.

Fans get in on the video game action.

On October 10, Skylanders fanatics united in New York City for the Skylanders SWAPtoberfest! A life-size world of Skylands was created right in the middle of Times Square. I joined hundreds of kids as they checked out all-things-new at Skylanders and prepared for the highly anticipated release of the new Skylanders Swap Force video game. Kiosks were set up, alongside a Skylands ship, for fans to play the new game in advance of its official launch. Skylanders Swap Force game footage was also featured on the Times Square jumbotron, so fans and passersby were able to watch the action! Kids, parents, and bloggers participated in Swaptober-themed events: Eating candy corn and cupcakes; greeting the costumed characters of the SWAP Force; and learning to play the new video games, which released in North America on October 13. I don’t want to brag, but after about 40 minutes of hogging the video game kiosk (stealing the time from actual children with no shame), I am pretty much a Skylanders boss!

I love that the Skylanders brand is so extensive, offering something for kids of all ages and interests.

SWAP Force takes over Times Square

SWAP Force takes over Times Square

Even better is the fact that all you really need to get started in the Skylanders realm is a Swap Force Starter Pack. This set includes a video game, a portal of power, a collector’s poster, three trading cards, three character sticker sheets with secret codes, and three Skylanders figures. There is also a starter pack available in the Dark edition; it includes a video game, a portal of power, a mega character collector poster, five sticker sheets with secret codes, five trading cards, and five Skylanders figures.  These starter packs also come in Giants and Syro’s Adventures editions. The technology and inspiration behind the new Skylanders video game make it an absolutely unstoppable force. I was able to speak with several of the video game designers who shared with me that the evolution of the game is only beginning—Skylanders is just getting started! All of the designers that I spoke with are parents, and one mommy/designer shared with me that this is the first game that she’s been a part of that she is happy to share with her children. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Indoor Toys to Defeat the Colder Weather Blues

I could have sworn that yesterday was the first declared day of summer. Man, it totally flew by! Though I love autumn now, I remember hating the changing of the leaves as a kid—it meant no more pool parties or beach days, and very limited outdoor play as fall turned to winter. Fear not, kids of 2013: there are so many new toys to make indoor play equally as exciting as those water guns and slip ‘n slides. Though I can’t help you with the pool situation (even I will miss the sunshine and water combo), I can give you a list of some of the hottest remote-control and robotic toys for indoor play to get you through the colder weather.

zoomer-150x150For parents who don’t allow dogs in the house, get rid of the constant begging and pleading from your kids with Zoomer, from Spin Master. He does everything that a real dog does—except shed hair and pee in the house! He’s cute and interactive, and he listens and learns commands. The trainable robotic pet will sit, bark, run, play, and even roll over on command. He even lifts his leg when commanded to “Go pee.” Kids can teach Zoomer more than 60 tricks, and the more time spent with him, the more he does—a lesson in pet responsibility. He responds to Spanish, French, and English. He is spotted like a Dalmatian, and he answers to his name, Zoomer! It’s absolutely adorable, doesn’t need regular vet visits, and won’t beg you for food. Win-win! He loves when you pat his head or tickle his tummy; like a real dog, he can’t help but wag his tail. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Doc McStuffins Means More for Girls than Barbie

DOCBAG14107289When I was a kid, my mom worried about my sister’s obsessive interest in Barbie dolls and various baby dolls—not that there is anything wrong with these little girl staples. I think she just wanted to make sure that Anna understood that there was more to look forward to than having babies, looking like Barbie, and finding her Ken. When we got a little older, we had a board game called Mystery Date, where the sole objective was to find your perfect cutie for a mystery date. Similar to this was Dream Phone, a game that revolved around calling every boy in the deck of playing cards until you found Mr. Right. Maybe, though, rock bottom was Mall Madness, a game in which the winner is the girl who finds the best sale at the mall. And our parents wonder why we were boy-crazed teenagers who most loved to frequent the mall, meanwhile our brother, Jesse, is attending medical school—I blame my parents.

McstuffinsThere’s a new toy that really got me thinking about this: Doc McStuffins Get Better Check-Up Center, from Just Play, based on the Doc McStuffins series, from Disney Junior. This center includes 10 pieces that will make kids wish they were in the medical field. It’s perfect for role play—this time as a doctor, not a boy-crazy professional shopper. The set includes Lambie, featured in Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins series, and she will play patient to Doc McStuffins, activating sounds and phrases. There is a light-up x-ray machine, a movable scale, a growth chart, and a Band-Aid dispenser. This set could keep kids busy for hours, and it includes lights and sound for Doc McStuffins diagnosis. [Read more...]