COMMENTARY: Not All Science Toys are Created Equal

Not all science toys are created equal. Today’s kids live in a world oozing with technology, discovery, gizmos, and gadgets—and toy store shelves reflect this environment. Classics, such as volcano kits and fossil excavation sets, will always retain their charm and their ability to excite and inspire kids. However, more high-tech items, such as solar-powered robots and hovercrafts, are the toys of today—and tomorrow.

There is immeasurable value in science toys. Kids gain knowledge and understanding of the world around them by immersing themselves in a hands-on activity that lets them comprehend how things work, where things come from, or how to use one thing to power another. Providing kids with fun and exciting alternatives to mind-numbing video games or TV shows is a great way for parents and caregivers to encourage learning and positive play, even outside of school hours.

Hovercrafts, once a thing of sci-fi and fantasy, are now a reality. Thames & Kosmos offers kids the opportunity to build their own working hovercraft with the Air Stream Machines kit. The kit teaches kids about air mass and air pressure by letting them experiment with propellers, impellers, blower motors, and fans. Kids can even build a batting machine that suspends a ball on top of the stream of air. [Read more...]

Little Tikes Big Holiday Offering

Little Tikes is introducing new products for the holidays. These products range from ages as early as 6 months up to 5 years. These toys allow kids to interact with art, funny characters, and animals. They all support early development, including learning to crawl. These products include:
  • Lil’ Blabberz: Oolie is a funny, crazy character in the shape of a soft, fuzzy ball for kids ages 3 and up.
  • Activity Garden: The garden incorporates a variety of baby toys and activities to develop motor skills and cognitive ability. This activity gym can be configured in different ways to keep play exciting from kids ages 6 months to 3 years.
  • GiddyUp ‘N Go Pony: A toy pony named Thunder that allows kids ages 3 to 5 to develop coordination and balance.
  • I’m an Artist Station: This product allows toddlers ages 3 and up to be creative in art. The paper spins, kids add paint, and make creations.
  • Wiggimals: This toy sheep can assist babies in learning to crawl with its movement. Wiggimals is suitable for babies ages 6 months and up.

Musical Toys: An Inspiration to Pursue the Art

by Rachel Matthews, guest blogger

Not too long ago, the Kidz Bop kids found their way performing at venues in New York and New Jersey. Their collection of poppy, top 40 covers has allowed them to produce dozens of compilation albums, launch a U.S. star search, release books, video games, and toys.

The line-up of the group is in constant rotation as each member ages. Because of this rotation, many a child beg their parents for a singing lesson—especially in New York—after seeing a Kidz Bop performance. The chances of becoming a member is hard pressed as detailed by this young musician, but the combination of their U.S. talent search and brand gives hope to many children within the States.

Of course, aiming to sing for a band such as Kidz Bop is only part of what’s driving up sales in music -parents must by music-related toys to help further their children’s ambitions.

[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...]

COMMENTARY: Be a Rock Star—Through Play!

From the ages of 9 to about—oh I don’t know—now, few things got me more excited than hearing a Spice Girls song. I remember the days of standing in front of my mirror with a hair brush belting out all of Britney Spears‘ greatest hits. Everyone—whether you have an extreme case of stage fright or, like myself, were a diva-beyond-compare since the age of 5—loves the fantasy of being a rock star. It takes a lot of guts and gall—and boy does it seem glamorous.

We all know from reading the news that not all roads to rock stardom are as shiny, bright, and full of great shoes as we all hope for them to be. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still love the fantasy. With the upgrade of technology being incorporated into toys, kids’ fantasies of being a rock star are becoming truly, well, spectacular. Here are some great toys that will get kids—and kids at heart—up in front of that mirror belting into a hairbrush.

superstarThe Barbie Build ‘n Play Super Star Stage, from Mega Bloks, allows girls ages 5 and up to build their own two-story stage that features real lights and sounds that move to the music. The set comes with approximately 290 pieces, including sparkling blocks for a touch of extra glimmer. The Super Star Stage has three songs that will get kids up and dancing. Super Star Barbie, Raquelle, and Teresa figures are included with tons of fabulous accessories to make their rock show glam, including microphones, guitars, a DJ booth, a keyboard, and an elevator with a spinning feature. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Billy’s Got the Toddler Beat

As a 24 year-old, one would hope that it would take a fairly fascinating toy to really pique my interest. While it does take probably less than you would imagine (I am admittedly a kid at heart), there is one toddler plaything that I simply can’t get enough of—Billy Beats Dancing Piano. This musical DJ, from Mega Bloks, does it all. Billy is a too-cute-to-handle, dancing piano that is the culmination of all things enjoyed by toddlers. I know that if Billy had been around in my toddler hay-day, his batteries would have needed very frequent changing. My short attention span made it difficult to entertain me, and Billy Beats is four sources of entertainment in one—singing, music playing, dancing, and block building. Win, win, win, and win!

billybeatsHe has eight classic preschool songs in his repertoire, and he knows them all in three styles—with standard piano sounds, barnyard animal sounds, and a funky DJ-style. Kids can mix-and-match the sounds in the “Discover Music” mode. The “Dance Along” option makes Billy dance along as the song plays. The keys light up and Billy shakes his little piano booty. I think my favorite is the “Teach Me” setting. Billy Beats’ keys will light up in the order of the notes in the song. Toddler musicians can follow along, playing the song. If they make a mistake, Billy Beats lets out an adorable little giggle; if they get it right, he plays the song back for them—and of course adds a little jig.

Staying true to the Mega Bloks First Builders brand, Billy Beats is a construction toy that is fully compatible with all Mega Bloks First Builders blocks. They can be stored in the space under his red cap, and built up over his keys and on top of his head. Along with the included blocks, Billy Beats comes with stickers of sheet music that kids can play on his light-up keyboard.

For more commentary from Kara, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: Putting It Together

Ever since I was a kid, I have been a huge fan of puzzles. I am, by no means, a patient person, but there is something so calming and relaxing about trying to figure out how 1,000 pieces fit together to create a picture. New puzzles on the market are taking the traditional toy to a whole new level for all ages. With additions like a fourth dimension, augmented reality, or sound effects, puzzles are keeping up with the changing times and adapting for new generations. Here are some of my favorite puzzles on the market, each with its own little added twist.

4D Cityscape History Puzzle - New York City 2013The puzzles from 4D Cityscape are quite the undertaking, but they are definitely rewarding and educational at the same time. The key to 4D Cityscape puzzles are the fourth dimension: time. Puzzle builders put together a 3-D puzzle of a city, and then add the buildings, structures, and landmarks in order according to a provided timeline, learning the history of the city as well as the layout. This 4-D adventure allows you to explore the cities of the world, including New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, and more. A personal favorite of mine is the upcoming 4-D puzzle of Westeros, that was introduced by HBO at Comic-Con International: San Diego (and that I gushed about, along with other great Game of Thrones products, here). Whether you’re exploring the real world or a fictional one, 4D Cityscape puzzles are an entertaining way to travel—without all those pesky airline regulations. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Solar-Powered Toys Let Kids Harness the Power of the Sun

The best way to learn is hands-on, and there are lots of great toys that let kids learn about the world around them—while having fun at the same time! With solar-powered toys, kids come to understand how the sun provides energy and how to harness it for their use.

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OWI’s 14-in 1-Educational Solar Robot Kit, recipient of Best Green Products Award 2013, is a solar-powered robot that transforms into 14 different robot modes. Kids can easily change from a tail-wagging dog to a running beetle, a walking crab to a surfer, a speedster to a zombie chaser, and others. The robot kit provides unique accessories and parts that allow the robot to move on land and in water. It moves in direct sunlight and allows kids to create and use their imagination. There are two levels in building the robot kit. Level one includes Turtle-bot, Beetle-bot, Quadru-bot, Boat-bot, Walker-bot, Dog-bot, and Wheel-bot. Level two includes Roly Poly-bot, Auto-bot, Slither-bot, Surf-bot, Zombie-bot, Crab-bot, and Row-bot. Additional features include adjustable polarity on the solar panel to change direction of motor rotation, a retractable robot head which can be quickly stored in the upper body and can be installed in the front, top, or rear of the gearbox, and a transparent housing so kids can see the movements of the gears. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Shaping Moral Values Through Play

Photographer Dennis Di Laura Stylist Xu Job# 1249680A retouch: Peter Kaye

Toys are so much more than just playthings. All children learn through play, and aside from basic skill building, toys can teach kids moral values and help them enhance and embrace their individuality. Being “different” is often shunned at the grade school level, especially with increased bullying in schools and on the Internet. Kids need to learn how to love what makes them unique and build their self-esteem, and there are many toys on the market that help them do exactly that.

Consumers are often critical of Barbie, from Mattel, arguing that her appearance is unrealistic and leads girls to feel self-conscious about their less-than perfect bodies. However, let’s not forget that first and foremost, Barbie teaches girls that they can be anything they want, including a chef, a scientist, a doctor, and a veterinarian. Though she may love her mascara, she is a power woman at heart and she gives kids the confidence they need to pursue their dreams. In the July/August edition of The Toy Book, we featured dolls of all shapes and sizes, and many of them teach kids important moral values, including nurturing techniques, celebration of individuality, and the importance of environmental conservation. Check out the full dolls showcase on page 31.

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Q&A with Drew Stevenson, Vice President of Sales and Retail Marketing North America, Mega Bloks

The Toy Book spoke with Drew Stevenson, vice president of sales and retail marketing North America at Mega Bloks, about the current state of the construction category and Mega Bloks role in the industry.

TB: Building sets saw a 23 percent increase in sales from 2011 to 2012, according to the NPD Group, and the category is the strongest toy category right now. Why has the construction category taken off over the past couple of years?

DS: Well actually, the category has been consistently growing for the past four years and we believe it represents a desire for more educationally beneficial toys, which absorb children’s imagination from the age of 1. Parents want what is best for their children and they understand more and more the benefits of construction in terms of skill development, creativity, self-expression, and sense of accomplishment. So, we are confident that the construction toy category will only continue to grow.

Mega Bloks will continue to offer more choices for preschoolers, boys, girls, and collectors, allowing all of our fans to continuously immerse themselves in this play pattern and grow with Mega Bloks. [Read more...]