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.
Summer is an ideal time for encouraging kids to explore their creative powers. Some of our favorite kits this season provide the raw materials that invite kids to try their hands with new crafts. Big sidewalk chalk can be used for art shows, potsy games, or drawing elaborate mandalas. One of our tester's favorites, a set of sunglasses to decorate and wear on sunny days. Here are a few of the newest choices for creative fun.
Posted: 2015-06-10 12:15:40
By: Joanne and Stephanie Oppenheim
If you are hoping to spark your child's interest in STEM learning, the time is ripe! This season there are more new and fascinating kits designed to enhance their budding understanding and interest in science. Some combine art with science, others involve more reading and step by step problem solving. Kids are by nature curious about the real world and how things work. Providing tools that invite them to investigate and explore the natural world will keep that hunger for learning alive. We'll be adding more to this special list every few weeks; science, math and construction toys that build those interests. Check our age appropriate lists as well.
If you are a new parent, grandparent, or 1st time auntie or uncle--have fun! Finding welcoming gifts for the new baby has never been easier. Quite aside from the traditional stuffed bear there are so many colorful and interesting choices that will please the littlest player. Check our infant lists by clicking on the Infant image to your left. Click here for a few of our newest favorites.
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.
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: 2015-02-02 06:45:09
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.
Every holiday season we find some expensive but exciting gifts. Some are pure novelty items while others are toys that will go the miles to be enjoyed for years to come. If you're still shopping and not finding a significant enough gift for the grandchild, niece or nephew, son or daughter, here, in age order (from infants to tweens) are some top-of-the-line choices for 2014.
Tags: Today Show, Best Toys for Early School Aged Children, toyportfolio.com
Posted: 2014-12-09 12:49:56
By: by Stephanie and Joanne Oppenheim
As the second part of our TODAY Show/toyportfolio.com 2014 Toy Review we focused on the best toys for early school aged kids. We had over 215 children (incuding seven sets of twins) from 24 states including Hawaii and Alaska participate with their families to review the top new toys for 2014. Many of the toys have been heavily hyped. We wanted to know how those toys stacked up with our reviewers.
For several seasons now toymakers have created an impressive selection of interesting toys for $19.99 and less. Good news if you are shopping for multiple gifts for all those nieces and nephews. We found a number of our top picks of the year in this price range. You can use our search engine at the top of our home page; just enter the year 2014 and 19.99 to find dozens of winning choices, including many picture books as well as toys. Here are some of our favorites that won't break the bank for each age group :
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