New toys for your inner child…

I was very excited a few weeks ago to get an invitation to Time To Play Magazine’s – Spring Summer 2010 Showcase. After watching Jim Silver and Chris Byrne of Time To Play Magazine talk about some of the new toys coming in the next few months, I was able to get some face-to-face time with the companies.  More than 20 leading toy and family entertainment companies were there and I wanted to give you a brief list of some of the toys that really got my inner child excited. Let’s face it, part of the fun of being parents is regressing to your childhood without looking like complete fools. Just make sure your kids are around for cover!

I went straight to the table with the most bubbles. I love bubbles and so does my son. It was one of the first words he could say and they make him laugh contagiously so they are at the top of my fun list. Little Kids had several new bubble toys that really caught my eye. First and foremost the combo bubble maker flashlight. I could really see my son running around with it giggling contentedly as the bubbles envelop him. You can find a great selection of Little Kids products at BJ’s Wholesale Club at their usual great prices and you can stock up so you have enough bubbles to last you through the year!

Disney had a great selection of new toys, but one product really stood out for me. With so much interactivity “necessary” these days for toys the Pook-A-Looz plush created by Disney’s in-house toy design team was really a refreshing idea in the sea of lights and sounds that we have gotten used to as parents. They have a great selection from a cast of characters from some of the great children’s stories and cartoons.

One of the most exciting for me of all the licensed products was Jazwares (a family run business for a change) that has revisited the A-Team of my youth. As I said before this is just as much about my inner child as it is about my son! I was skeptical about the new cast of characters, but I have to say they seem to have chosen wisely and if I am lucky enough to get a night off I will try to catch the movie and see if today’s A-Team still gives me the same thrill as they did back in the days.

The next product I saw was Street Surfing’s new Whiplash scooter. My son is still fumbling with his three-wheeled scooter, but his daredevil side I am sure would appreciate this interpretation of the Whiplash. I am glad, though, that he is not there yet so that I don’t need to worry about yet another way for him to run away from us in the park!

MEGA Brands was displaying its always impressive selection of toys for all ages. In particular, for toddlers like my son, there was a really great on-the-go Thomas and Friends box which considering how compact it is, makes for an impressive setup when open and assembled.

I then mosied over to Mattel which seemed to have quite a lot going on for older kids until I got closer and found the ultimate toy for my truck and car obsessed (at least in his current phase) son: the Big Rig Buddies. Basically the truck stands on its hind wheels and starts chomping on Matchbox cars that you feed it. The kicker for me is that it poops the car after an audible farting noise. OK. So most of the moms just went “Gross!” just like my wife did when I told her in my “hyper excited kid voice”. Whatever. Girls don’t get it. The dads get it so, yeah. It was cool. It’s a guy thing.

Hasbro had an Iron Man 2 helmet that I am not ashamed to admit that I was totally bummed they did not have it in my size. It was very cool with battle sounds and everything. You can even get the energy core to clip on to your shirt. My wife shook her head when she heard that one. Yeah, lot’s of head shaking. Muttered something about having two kids in the house. Weird because last I checked we only have a son.

Something kept flying by with a couple of kids running after it and when I looked up I saw what looked like a mini-UFO flying around. I looked to see who was controlling it with a remote, but found no one so I just followed what turned out to be the Air Hog Vectron Wave back to the Spin Master table. After explaining to me how it works with multiple sensors placed beneath it to keep it in the air and how after a certain height it knows to come back down I sort of shrugged and thought to myself that however it was doing it I just wanted one because it was totally cool. So I started then and there to outline my excuse for needing to get one that would be semi-plausible for my wife (yeah, I know, Good Luck!).

I kept PLAYMOBIL and Lego for last, because they are such a big part of my childhood. Whenever as a kid I was in Italy on family vacations all of my cousins and friends had PLAYMOBIL and I remember how badly I wanted their pirate ship, but in the New York only FAO Schwarz carried some PLAYMOBIL and in those days FAO Schwarz was a “premium” toy store. Much more accessible in the US of course were my Legos. I used to use them to build forts for my little plastic green soldiers.

Although I have to take all the small pieces away for now since my son is still in the habit of putting things in his mouth, there was a fire truck that PLAYMOBIL was showcasing that was awesome. The way PLAYMOBIL can keep such simple and clean designs on their toys and still have so much detail always impresses me. Lego as always finds ways to add creativity within their existing “building block” structures and they had some great additions to their Harry Potter licensed products.

I left content as can be, having regressed for a few hours and played with all these incredibly fun toys. Of course in the world of “gender specific” toys all of the above lacks a lot of the pink and frills that having a girl would have inevitably forced me to write about (then again I am told I used to love tea time with my sister’s dolls so it’s all relative). Luckily, I have a son and therefore have a rock solid excuse for neglecting those toys. Oh wait, my wife reminds me I have a niece. Uhm, well yes that is true. OK. So next time I promise I’ll talk about the frilly stuff. In the meantime, my inner child (or rather the little boy inside my head) looks forward to many of these toys hitting the stores soon and I will just have to remember that I am really buying them for my son to play with. Cross my heart.

The Joys of Entertaining Your Kid While Traveling Light…

As I said in an earlier post, I can’t say that I enjoy traveling with my son and not because I don’t love him more than anything in the world and want to be with him all the time (with a few exceptions, like the times he throws all his toys off of the play table and starts screaming and flapping his arms on the floor as if he wanted to make a snow angel on the parquet all because his Tonka truck doesn’t fit into the Thomas and Friends tunnel, or when he runs off with the keys right as I am leaving for work and hides them in one of his “special” places, you know, the ones that parents find out about when the apple slice he hid there a few days ago starts to putrefy, or when he braces his legs against the high chair when you want to pull him out and get him into the bath for a hose down after he dumped his yogurt and honey snack over his head (just for kicks) so you actually have to disassemble the whole thing to extricate him while he screams into whichever ear is closest to his mouth… yeah – then, right at that moment, I don’t like him that much – don’t get me wrong , though, I still love him, just, well, you know what I mean, right?). I have already described the stress levels of traveling with a toddler (and my hat is tipped to those with more than one kid!) so I wanted to go into more detail about one aspect of the traveling experience and this applies to a one hour drive as much as to a ten hour flight (although I’ll grant you the latter is certainly tougher). Specifically the number of items you have to shove into your “diaper bag” (people who don’t have kids think that this is just another cute bag to carry around like an accessory with maybe a diaper – hence the name – and a baby bottle somewhere inside… funny). These are all essential survival (and for parent’s mentally sanity) tools for anyone heading with a – potential hissy-fit throwing, snack wanting (NOW!) and wearing (ALL OVER!), pooping, drooling, nose dripping, attention span of a gnat – child. Sure, none of the above might happen, but why make your parenting life harder? So in go the wipes, diapers, creams, snacks, blankies, change of clothing, pacifiers and books/toys/instruments/etc. (lots and lots of them!) and your shoulders curse at you as you hoist the one hundred pound diaper bag onto them (usually the stroller’s handle bars are reserved for my wife’s hand bag which is basically another diaper bag – just one that, as she puts it, reminds her that she is still a woman – and weighs just below the threshold weight that would turn the stroller into a catapult).

Now keep in mind that a good eighty percent of that weight comes from the books/toys/instruments/etc. that are the required distraction for surviving a supermarket run just as much as that ten hour flight. I would love to find a product that lightens that weight and keeps my kid entertained on many different levels. I know my son loves to play with my iPhone or any other expensive electronic gadget that I might have lying around, but I would rather get something that is more at his level for now (I am sure he will be jailbreaking and reprogramming my iPhone by the time he is in Kindergarten) and that will not dent the piggybank if he breaks it (amazing how ingenious toddlers are at reverse engineering objects!).

I think I found something that might just come to my aid. I was invited by VTech to hang out at their loft during ToyFair here in NYC and get some hands on time with their newest line of products for 2010. There were a lot of more or less interesting toys on display, but one in particular piqued my interest – the FLiP.

The FLiP is a tablet shaped interactive reader (with hinged protective cover) that is basically a very simple version of an e-book reader for kids. It is rugged and fairly light weight, has a color touch screen (and physical “flat” qwerty keyboard) and interchangeable cartridges for reading different books. The books are interactive and animated stories that allow your kid (who can enter their name and pick an Avatar) to interact with the story, have it read to them, highlight specific words (there is a dictionary) and then play games that are related to the story. They can earn reading certificates as they progress through the story titles and shortly after the FLiP hits stores and http://www.vtechkids.com in August (SRP $59.99) users will have access through a VTech VPN to a downloadable online library with more than hundred additional titles (some free) including some well-known licensed characters.

The FLiP will be available in blue and pink (I am surprised that VTech did not say that they will sell customizable skins with Curious George, Spiderman, Thomas&Friends etc. themes since kids, like adults, love to be able to distinguish between what is MINE! MINE! And what is yours, but I WANT IT!).

What I found particularly attractive about the FLiP from a parent’s point of view is the integration of several entertainment elements into a very portable object. I love my kid’s books and toys and love that he plays with them more than he watches TV or DVDs, but as I said before, I wish I did not have to lug them around. I think FliP offers that solution for parents with toddlers and small children. VTech sees this product in the 3-7yrs category, I think my toddler son would enjoy it as well. The FLiP is interactive without “hypnotizing”. There are enough separate things you can do with it to ensure that your kid feels that they are interacting with several “objects” within one platform (see the “attention span of a gnat” comment above) which is a life saver when you are trying to keep them busy and they keep wanting “something else” every two seconds.

The true test will be getting one in my son’s hands and seeing how he interacts with the unit. As far as I am concerned it could be a real winner in the “how-do-I-keep-my-kid-busy-while-on-the-go” category.