Archive For The “Toys & Tech” Category

2013 Holiday Toy Review

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#HotToys13, 2013 Christmas Toy Review

LeapFrog LeapReader Reading/Writing System

Before one holiday ends, the next has begun so that’s how we’ve come to talk about Christmas on Halloween. Regardless if you’re in Halloween mode (keep in mind that I’m writing this between Halloween family activities today) or if your heart has fast-forward to Christmas there is lots of buzz surrounding super cool toys & tech.

A quick trip to the Big Apple last week for the Toy Insider’s and The Big Toy Book’s Holi-Play event afforded me the opportunity to discover the season’s “must-have” items. I am so excited to share some of what I found, especially since there was such a variety. Here are some of my favorites:

Well known LeapFrog was on site to showcase the LeapPad Ultra with various cartridge games for math, science and reading. The LeapFrog LeapReader system is a wonderful program for teaching writing and of course a wide variety of LeapReader books to encourage reading and enhance reading skills. Check out the video below – this is a must-have on our list!!

Science kits, robots, princesses, Minnie Mouse, tablets, toys toys toys…check out The Toy Insider music video and check out their link for a breakdown including the “Hot 20” and “Top Tech 12” lists.

So back to Halloween – many families have adapted a new tradition of trading unwanted or excess candy for a small toy. After selecting a small sample or having a couple days of candy binging – candy is then bagged up for the Switch Witch, who in turn leaves a treat in exchange for the candy. Many of the items showcased at the Toy Insider Holi-Play event would be perfect for this exchange – for instance the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or any of the Angry Birds Star Wars Telepods by Hasbro and even Laser Pegs robots or building sets. The 3D Christmas Holiday Specs would make for a great exchange idea to help transition into the holiday spirit. These magical glasses transform street lamps and headlights into colorful, playful Christmas characters.

Homeroom At Home looks to find toys and games that engage learning in not-so-obvious ways. That’s why we love brands like Mega Bloks, Laser Pegs, Thames and Cosmos, Cloud_B, Hasbro, LeapFrog, Disney and Vtech providing many opportunities for parents to fold in some learning while having playful family time. The possibilities are endless and the hot toys to consider for this year’s gift giving are very exciting and provide many avenues of quality learning fun. Again I was invited to a Media preview of the season’s best toy selection provided by The Big Toy Book and The Toy Insider. I was given several sample toys to play with my family and review but this article was not sponsored or compensated. As always the ideas, suggestions and opinions expressed here are strictly my own. Many thanks to all of the sponsors including Women’s Day Magazine (where you can also find The Toy Insider insert). Amazon affiliate links were used throughout this article.

Comment below with your favorite childhood toy and how does that compare to the toys on the market today? Which is your favorite?

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Celebrating 90 years with Madame Alexander Dolls

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Oh the places you can take your doll and your doll can take you!! Recently, Victoria and I had the great pleasure of visiting, touring and celebrating with Alexander Doll Company in New York City.

HAPPY 90TH!!

Photo courtesy of Alexander Doll Company Inc.

This was a very special day (despite someone’s embarrassing meltdown moment). But first, let me mention how terribly excited Victoria was for her first train ride ever. She could hardly contain her excitement. Here’s a quick clip of our adventure from Princeton Junction to NYC.

She was too cute in that tutu… all smiles the whole way. When we got to Penn Station, she kept repeating “We’re in the city, we’re finally in the city!”

NYC Madame Alexander Dolls

The Big Apple

A short walk had us at the door of Madame Alexander’s new building. Once inside, we were greeted with warmth, smiles and goodies – yum. We had the opportunity to hear a quick demonstration of the Dollie & Me line and in fact they had a skirt outfit similar to Victoria’s fluffy pink tutu – her “city outfit”. The doll studio held several rooms for exploration before we went one flight down to the office area. More goodies and lots of collectibles for us to admire. But here’s where the meltdown began… prior to coming we received a catalog and as such we looked thru the pages sharing time looking forward to our trip. Victoria immediately spotted the Rapunzel doll in the catalog and knew to look for her when we arrived. She had the hardest time parting with one of her all time favorite characters. I remain a very very grateful mom for all the patience the staff demonstrated while I dealt with the little situation.  Madame Alexander’s collection offers a wonderful variety including classic literature characters like Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz and Annie, and new fun loving ones like Pinkalicious,

Angelina Ballerina and Fancy Nancy.

Toys R Us in NYC, Madame Alexander Dolls

Shopping At Toys R Us, NYC

Soon enough, we were on our way to a small shopping spree… this was New York after-all. Victoria like a big girl, selected her purchase with much care, paid by herself and managed her own bag all the way back to Penn Station. Click on the video for a glimpse into Madame Alexander’s world and our shopping spree.

And like any girl who’s had the time of her life… she just had to phone a friend and tell her all about it.

Train to NYC, Madame Alexander Dolls

"I had the most wonderful day..."

Many many thanks to Alexander Doll Company for hosting this media event and inviting us. In full disclosure, the Alexander Doll Company offered us the below pictured blue dress doll for our giveaway. The opinions expressed in this post are strictly mine. This was a special event, shared between mother and daughter in our nation’s Big Apple.

Here’s some additional information (provided via a press release from Alexander Doll Company) you may not have known about this well-known doll company…

    • Madame Alexander was the first manufacturer to issue a doll based on a licensed character. The 1930 Alice in Wonderland doll led to the creation of dolls based on characters from literature and popular motion pictures.

    • Madame Alexander invented “sleep eyes” (the innovation that allows a doll to close its eyes when its head is tilted back) in the late 1930s.

    • In 1942, Madame Alexander created Jeannie Walker, one of the toy industry’s first “walking dolls.”

    • Madame Alexander brought all the pomp and circumstance of Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation to life in a collection of 36 dolls dressed in historically accurate costumes. Attention to detail was so strict; the cloth used for the dolls’ robes was obtained from the same mill that had produced the actual coronation mantles. The final result was so convincing that CBS television used the dolls to enact the ceremony for their viewers on air!

    • Madame Alexander believed in honoring the people who helped build the country she loved. Therefore, in 1976, the Alexander Doll Company introduced the First Ladies series. The first 14-inch set included Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolly Madison. Ultimately, there were six different sets, each with six first ladies in their inaugural gowns. These dolls had a brush with fame when featured in the 1990s on the CBS show “Murphy Brown” as decoration in Corky Sherwood’s office.

    • In 2000, a line of eight storybook character dolls from Madame Alexander was featured in the McDonald’s Happy Meal. These celebrated storybook couples included Cinderella and Prince Charming, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, Alice in Wonderland and The Mad Hatter, and Hansel and Gretel. Each of the eight miniature Alexander Happy Meal dolls has “sleep eyes.” This was a “first” for a Happy Meal toy.

    • The Smithsonian Institute houses several Madame Alexander dolls in its permanent collection.

For more pictures of our day out together, be sure to visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HomeroomAtHome and look for the Madame Alexander album.

Now for the Giveaway details:

Madame Alexander Dolls, NYC trip

Giveaway ends June 21st

No blog comments required – but of course we’d love to hear which Madame Alexander doll you might have had growing up or gifted to your child.

To enter the giveaway you must simple “like” our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/HomeroomAtHome).

Then for an additional entry – share the Facebook contest/link on your Facebook home page.

And for a third and final entry – leave us a comment on our Facebook Madame Alexander post.

Giveaway will be drawn at random on June 22nd with entries closed at midnight on the 21st.  That’s it.  We hope this will simplify our entry requirements and encourage your participation, as we’d love to hear about your favorite dolls and experiences. Facebook is not affiliated with this giveaway or liable in any way or connected to this giveaway. Best of luck.

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VTech InnoTab 2 Baby– Toys That Make Learning Sense

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I’ve been that mom, standing in the toy isle poking and playing with all the “smart” toys… for well over an hour. I’ve done it twice now – just before the holiday season, trying to decide if the options on the shelf really made sense. In both cases – I walked away empty-handed. Why? Many reasons – I didn’t want to be persuaded by fancy packaging, colorful options or buttons that light up and down. Cost was another factor – could there really be a justifiable reason for the large swing from one brand/toy to another? But sure enough the next holiday season came, with the upgraded models and there I stood in the Target isle poking and playing all over again. Were last year’s model the better bargain, or should I take the advise of many and just buy a grown-up tablet to share, which I did. (I’ll let you know how the sharing has been working in an another post… sigh.)

The technology is great IF you have the patience for it and extra patience for all the ads and nickle-n-dime approaches to apps on these “real” tablets. Needless to say, my daughter wasn’t the primary user. We wouldn’t allow her to take it in the car – she still has a tendency to toss things around; and we wouldn’t allow her to carry it from room to room. It is not a toy and it didn’t come with a safety bumper. Nonetheless, I’ll continue to find age appropriate apps and tools for her on the tablet and we’ll use it side-by-side for learning fun.

Now having said that – I finally got the opportunity I needed to truly test drive one of the leading brands in smart toys – VTech. During a recent media event, I had the great pleasure of meeting with a representative and getting a hands-on demo for the newly released InnoTab 2 Baby. The device was not on some demo setting or strapped to the store shelf but actually available to hold, play and maneuver. Better yet, as part of this media event we were issued one to take home and review… the real test would be Victoria’s reaction and ability to use the technology. You’ll see from our video below that she not only loved it – but didn’t want to deviate from her creative platform. After only a couple of instructions and 15 mins of play activities – she was set to go with the InnoTab 2 Baby, maneuvering around games and programs and to/from other programs.

I haven’t even fully installed all the programs that come with the device… we just opened, placed the batteries and handed it over… oh and that’s the other great thing – we CAN hand it over to a 3 year-old and not worry about her dropping it or being less than gentle. Her confidence has soared, as she feels like such a big girl doing the apps on her own.  We don’t hand her the device to be on her own, but some apps allow for that solo creative time, and that’s fine… we all need our space.  Others are better suited for family time and sharing.

Now after all this you’re probably wondering why am I going on and on about a baby’s learning toy. Where does this fit for Homeroom At Home? The simple answer is the tablet advances with your child. It is designed and preloaded for infants 12 months ( to include apps like coloring and baby sign language and word/picture games) but as your child develops and requires more challenge, the cartridges and online downloads allow you the flexibility to match your son/daughters needs.

And here’s another thing… since so many parents have a mix of school-age children and a younger ones… the InnoTab 2 Baby, given to your baby or toddler will reduce the need for sharing the old child’s smart toy devices. (While the cartridges remain inter-changable between both the original versions and this baby version.)

And speaking of cartridges – there are tons to choose from with new ones being created and developed regularly. Some of my favorite educationally enriched InnoTab software are Brave and Madagascar 3 and InnoTab Software – Cars 2, all for their Problem-Solving Skills, Vocabulary and Math/Logic skills. We look forward to showcasing these and other titles as a viable fun learning activity for your sons and daughters. And let’s not forget the hundreds of online apps you can download through the VTech app-store for even more learning-enrichment and fun.

VTech is a well-known toy manufacture and the brand behind the InnoTab children’s tablet. They graciously provided my family with a tablet for the purpose of reviewing and sharing our experience with the product. The opinions and thoughts expressed here are strictly my own.

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Toys For Learning Fun

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I had the great pleasure of attending the The Big Toy Book Baby Palooza this month and meeting some amazing brands that support our children’s development and learning needs. It was a play date without the little ones and yes, this event was mostly geared toward parents of babies and tots but no worries, I got some good take-a-ways for you with school-age children. The brands presented were VTech, Delta Children, Mega Bloks, Cloud B, The First Years, and Madame Alexander.

Here’s a brief video of the event and then… there’s so much more to consider.

Firstly, I have to admit that I had no idea that Delta Children was so much more than cribs and changing tables. Yup – I walked in to the most colorful display of children’s furniture, completely unaware that this was the same company that made my daughter’s crib (now converted toddler bed). Awesome. From comfy chairs (and a mini sofa w/ storage) to toddler beds and mini tables and chairs… all decked out in characters ranging from Mickey to Cars to Sesame Street and the beloved Disney Princesses. The child size desks and organizers were my favorite. It’s important to have a space easily accessible for kids so they aren’t straining to reach the top of the table to write and so that they can easily sit upright for homework and activities. Soon I’ll have a entire piece (or two… or three) devoted to organization, tips and key elements to organizing your routine functions and spaces.  Every household struggles with this to some extent and I’ll be consulting with a friend and expert on the matter to offer some excellent suggestions.  But for now… know that Delta has a great assortment of solutions. Bins are terrific for little toys and supplies like crayons, scrap paper and craft items (of course if you don’t run the risk of very young hands getting a hold of them). Click here for a examples of their storage solutions, particularly the Toy and Book Organizer, made available by Amazon and other suppliers.  We already own and love the Spiderman folding table and chair set. Be sure to check out the variety of desks available including this awesome easel/desk combo that comes with a storage ottoman. We’ve loved Delta since before Victoria was born and now love it all the more.

I didn’t get much time with the team from The First Years… let’s face it – Homeroom At Home isn’t really focused on the first couple of years – but I will say this… they have an amazing technological and digital carseat/app system that sends text alerts if baby is accidentally forgotten in the car, among other features. Amazing! Talk about innovative and safety conscientious. (Expecting or planning on more kiddos or know someone – definitely worth checking out: www.thefirstyears.com)

So here’s an interesting and unexpected product I came across – the Cloud B Twilight Constellation Sea Turtle night light. Not only does it introduce your youngster to the constellations and offer soothing sounds to drift off to, but also features 5 endangered animals. It comes with a storybook to teach children about endangered species and also offers a star guide. Not cool enough??? – A portion of the proceeds from Twilight Sea Turtle will be donated to a conservation organization.

VTech demonstrated a couple of cool toys. The one that I particularly appreciated with the InnoTab 2 Baby"". This version of the Inno Tab is specifically designed for infants 12 months and up… and by “up” I mean age 9. You heard… read it right – this device is designed to grow with the child, as it comes preloaded with apps, games and programs for the youngest family memeber but with cartridges and online downloads you can easily update this tool to grow with your child and his/her learning development. We will be demonstrating this product in more detail in a later post…

Madame Alexander is a very well-known and respected doll company but little did I know that they offered such a variety of dolls and plush toys. Boys and girls both enjoy roll playing and Madame Alexander has several lines to facilitate the basics in emotional intelligence and with products such as Fancy Nancy and Eloise children are encouraged to read and play together. Growing up – one of my favorite means of play was “school” whereby I taught my teddy bears and dolls the lessons from my actual homework. Doll play builds communication skills, nurturing abilities and social intelligence. There newest line: Newborn Nursery is my favorite with life like features including a realistic weight, hospital wrist band and adoption certificate – who couldn’t fall in love with these thumb-sucking beauties?

Lastly there was Mega Bloks. Is it fair to say that I love these products so much that I’ve been actively participating in a fellow bloggers giveaway with the hopes of winning a Barbie Mega Bloks set? (Fingers-crossed, but you can enter here at Classy Mommy.) The items on display at the #BTBBabyPalooza were again geared for a much younger crowd but Mega Bloks has a huge variety of building toys perfect for rainy days or themed weeks of play. For instance, let’s take Shark Week… the perfect activity to couple with craft ideas, video or on-screen activities would be Mega Bloks Power Rangers Megaforce – Shark Mechazord or Pyrates -Shark Escape. This is just one of dozens of Mega Bloks ideas.

Our hosts for this event were amazing in bringing some very valuable information to us. A special thank you to Laurie Schacht from The Toy Insider, Reyne Rice of Toy Trend and Charlene DeLaoch of Charlene Chronicles. My good friend Joey Fortman of Real Mom Media extended this opportunity to me and I’m ever so grateful. Look for more product reviews and suggestions from us for these brands, as this is just skimming the surface in terms of folding learning development into play time and quality family time.

Disclosure: The Big ToyBook Baby Palooza organized and invited us to participate in a media event introducing us to six brands. We were provided products to review and the opportunity to demo products onsite. The views, opinions and thoughts expressed here are completely mine. We already own and love products from all of these brands well before being invited to this media event.

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Reading Rainbow – A Family Favorite is Back as an App

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The fondest memories of my childhood include dancing in the summer rain with my Dad, holding summer “camp” with my siblings and cousins in the backyard, taking day trips with my family and always story time – many times cuddled up with my Mom on our couch, or sometimes shared sitting on the floor of our local library, and often watching Reading Rainbow on PBS. Yes, my brother, sister and I were quite fortunate to have engaged parents, passionate about giving us nontraditional learning experiences and exploring with us through literature, discussion, art and hands-on activity.

Season after season, Reading Rainbow remained a “staple” program in our family’s television viewing. And this was true for millions of viewers as the television series was broadcast from June of 1983 to November of 2006. The program focused on literacy for children and introduced a wide variety of books to engage the young readers’ imagination and love of reading.

All smiles with his Reading Rainbow App

Well that beloved program is back – in a digital format to best relate with our youngest generation of readers.  On the 20th of June, RRKids relaunched Reading Rainbow as an iPad App. The Reading Rainbow App holds all of its original program’s charm and characteristics simply in a new format – a preferred method for our highly digital world. Below please check out an introduction to the App by Co-Founder and Host LeVar Burton.

Reading Rainbow Intro Video

Posing with LeVar Burton, Co-Founder

“Reading will never go out of style, but the tools used for learning are changing.  I am excited to bring Reading Rainbow back so that parents who watched the show can now share that same feel-good experience with their own children but on a platform that resonates with today’s digital kids.”  LeVar Burton, Co-Founder


This iPad App showcases several clever islands with themes such as Genius Academy, Animal Kingdom and My Family. Each of these islands hold a large variety of digital books based on the theme, age and interest of your child. Books are brought to life with some animation, activities and audio celebrity storytelling include LeVar Burton. In addition to the library of books of over 150, the App maintains the real-life exploration from the t.v. program with 16 exciting video field trip adventures built into the themed islands. This reinvented Reading Rainbow App truly captures the essence of the original television series I grew up with and loved as a child.

Posing with Mark Wolfe, Co-Founder

“Throughout its more than two decades on television, Reading Rainbow enjoyed an exceptional reputations for children’s quality programming. That same focus – bringing together the best, most enriching, content for children, all in one place – is what the RRKisz is all about; now with the Reading Rainbow App and in the future with a wide array of new projects.”  Mark Wolfe, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer


But Parents – there’s more… with the subscription option an online parental resource and dashboard is included to keep track of the books your child read and give you updates on how many hours your child is reading, suggestions for books and summaries to aid with family discussions on the lessons in the books. As parents, we don’t necessarily read every book our child does but with questions and hints made available to us, we can engage in a more interactive experience prompting creative thinking, dialog and literature concepts.

Asra Rasheed, RRKidz CEO

“We’ve created an easy-to-use subscription service for parents, allowing then to unlock the extensive Reading Rainbow library books and videos without the worry of approving and purchasing each item separately.”  Asra Rasheed, RRKidz CEO


The Reading Rainbow iPad App is free to download with access to the library of books, field trip videos and the islands, however, books are limited to one download at a time. The subscription for the iPad App includes multiple book downloads and the parental dashboard/complimentary website. For a limited-time the subscription is offered at an introductory rate of $9.99 monthly or $29.99 for a six month package.
Screen shots of the iPad App:

With the privilege of attending a preview of the App, I was also fortunate to meet the team responsible for this reinvention of Reading Rainbow, including the beautiful and talented Ms. Tina Fabrique, the original voice behind the Reading Rainbow theme song. And who can forget the creative and tasty cake by Carlo’s Bakery, as seen on TLC’s Cake Boss.

Posing with the ever-smiling Tina Fabrique

Cake by Carlos Bakery, as seen on TLCs Cake Boss.


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