New Toys for Spring!
Our segment from the TODAY SHOW
Tags: Today Show, Spring Toys, Active Play, Construction Toys, Science, Games
Posted: 2012-08-13 14:32:48 By:


Finding the right toys for older babies and toddlers can be challenging. No longer babies and not yet preschoolers, this stage requires toys that match their new on-the-go style.  Here are three fun new choices to consider:



2012 Awards
Little Tikes Discover Sounds Activity Garden
(Little Tikes $79.99 Score: )

Here's a little setting that will be enjoyed as a baby grows from crawling to toddling and even beyond. A soon-to-be three spent a happy time testing all the bells and whistles of the Activity Garden. It is not so much about gardening as it is about making things happen. There are doors to open and close and window with built-in ball run and shutters for games of peek-a-boo. The doorbell has a three buttons that activate three pleasing sounds. A crawl through archway will be fun for active play. There is a mailbox shape, movable bugs to slide, pictures to click, and a detachable three-language phone with buttons that say the numerals baby presses in English, French or Spanish. This is a wonderfully inviting play setting with a terrific variety of activities for fine and gross motor skills. You can convert the four-walled setting into an open one, but we found it is less stabile in the opened positions. This does require assembly, but it went together with relative ease.  It is a big toy, almost 34 by 25 inches.  If you have the room it will be used for a reasonably long time.

SNAP: A good choice for active play that can be enjoyed by children with physical challenges, even if they can not stand. A variety of play modes here that empower kids to make things move and sound.

Age: Infants, Toddlers. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
Around the Yard Push Mower
(Manhattan Toy $42 Score: )

Our testers loved the clicky-clack sound of this old-fashioned handsomely crafted wooden push toy. This is intended for steady on their feet walkers who will enjoy their new found mobility. The three wooden balls are safely enclosed in the open slated drum. Can be used both indoors and out. Marked 12 months & up, but only if your one year old is completely steady on his feet.  It goes way to fast for children that are still wobbly.

Age: Toddlers. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
(PlaSmart $79.99 Score: )

A real beginning point for balance bikes.  Two wide wheels makes this a good choice for twos. We liked that it actually steers (most bikes for toddlers no longer have turning capability) and we also gave high marks for making it a gender-neutral red. Some of our 2s had legs that were too long - so as with any ride-on vehicles, we recommend that you bring your child to the store before you buy.  Marked 18 months & up, but as we noted really depends on your child. We still LOVE this company's Plasmacar.

Age: Toddlers. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on


Science Toys

We love science and making it hands-on fun at home can help spark your child's interest to their school work.



Miracle Bubbles Glow Fusion
(Imperial Toy Company $9.99 Score:)

We had SO many inquiries from our testers who were interested in these bubbles --and we are, as you know, pretty obsessed about things that glow in the dark--that we were excited to try them. So here's the scoop. When you add the activation solution, it does seriously glow. This is a chemical reaction that happens very quickly. The downside, is that the bubbles themselves do not glow very much, but when they land, they do leave a glowing residue (that doesn't stain). The glow lasts for only four hours. So you may be disappointed with the actual bubbles, our testers still thought the solution lighting up was pretty cool.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012.




2012 Awards
Talking Tubes
(Alex $27.99 Score: )

An update from the can and strings inventions you played with in school, this plastic set works really well to the delight of our testers young and old. It comes with 3.3 yards of yellow tubing with a red and blue telephone on either end. Go around a corner so that you can't see each other and whisper something. Your voice comes through loud and clear. An early science lesson about sound! 3 & up.

SNAP: For kids who are working on speech, this is a fun prop that will add playful fun to their efforts. Try a game of echo. Say what I say...start with one or two words and buld. Reverse roles and you say what your child says.

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




2012 Award
Kiwi Crates-Color
(Kiwicrate $19.95 Score: )

A new on-line series of activity kits that are incredibly well conceived and designed.  We sampled a COLOR kit where the activities include making spinning tops and collages. We usually don't love most science kits - but these were just on target for early school aged kids (and we'd say older fours with adult assistance). The materials are lovely and the instructions are clear.  One of the downsides of most science kits, is that the instructions become too complicated for most kids and adults.  Here, the instructions are a playful blend of written and pictorial. The site also invites you to post your results.

These kits are really terrific parent/child or grandparent/child projects that can be completed in an afternoon. We also tried the company's WIND kit that was great fun (but is no longer available). 

NOTE: This is a subscription service so we have not been able to test all the kits going forward.  To order the COLOR kit shown on the Today Show, click here.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012.


Construction Toys

Playing with themed construction kits gives your child an opportunity to work on spatial relations, visual discrimination skills -- not to mention the ability to follow step-by-step instructions. Open-ended kits also provide opportunities for being creative with different building materials.

Here are three new kits that our testers really enjoyed:



2012 Award
Lego Friends Heartlake Dog Show
(Lego Systems, Inc. $19.99 Score: )

A good place to start with this new collection. It includes Mia, 2 puppies, a podium with runway as well as a grooming area. And what would a dog show be without a trophy stand? Our tester liked all the small details: camera, bows, brushes, plate, bones, flowers, see saw, hurdle and flags. Building is just the first part of the fun. Our tester really liked using the props for pretend play. 183 pieces. Marked 5-12. We also had positive reviews for another smaller starter set, Andrea's Stage ($9.99/87 pieces). 5 & up.

As we always note with LEGO sets, it's always better to start off with smaller sets. These allow your child to get used to the step-by-step instructions and build their sense of confidence as they go along. While it may be tempting to buy the "big box" - hold off.  We have found this also is true with these sets. In other words, we found no real difference between boys and girls in this regard.  Our testers, many building for the first time, enjoyed the experience of these smaller sets-and were eager to move to other builds.

Note: 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 that are built in to toys for boys that typically play with building sets. We still think that girls could and should 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.

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




2012 Award
Laser Peg Bot
(Laser Pegs $19.95 Score: )

Want a fun introduction to circuits?  This intro set from Laser Pegs comes with instructions for 6 different models, but our testers loved treating this as an open-ended set. Make the connection between the pieces and they light up.  The low watts come from the 3 AA batteries (not included).  The company makes more extensive (and expensive kits)-- one of our favorites was last year's award winning 3D Light board.

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



Here are three strategy games for different age groups.



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




2012 Award
(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




2012 Award
(Maranda Enterprises $29.99 Score: )

A beautifully crafted brain teaser for older school aged kids, tweens, teens and adults. Each player needs to use all of their pieces to create the cube but you canít go beyond the grid of the board. If you no longer can use your pieces, you lose the round. A great game for working on spatial relations. The game is done in two tones of wood - and is the type of wooden toy you won't mind having out on your coffee table. The game is marked 4 & up which feels way too low for us   - but if you're playing with an older four they may enjoy turning the pieces. We'd say more like 7 & up to feel satisfying and not frustrating. Rounds move quickly - also a plus.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens, Teens, Adult. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on


Products for Infants
Products for Toddlers
Products for Preschoolers
Products for Early School Years
Products for Later School Years
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