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November 2006 | Vol. V - No. 11
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Emilie Hill has taught kids of all ages everything from swimming to physics for more than 15 years. She has four children of her own, ranging in age from a toddler to 12 years. In addition, she writes for an online community of moms. Each month, she shares her views on the latest toys with TDmonthly Magazine readers, rating them with 1 to 5 TDs (for TDmonthly!), with 5 as the top rating.

In this month's issue, her little girl falls in love with a collectible play doll and learns the importance of car safety, and her oldest boy finds a fun, new way to learn algebra.

Name: Little Skylar
Company: LEE MIDDLETON ORIGINAL DOLLS INC.
Age: 2 and Up
Gender: Girls
Category: Dolls
Price: $30.00




Mom’s Impression

Little Skylar looks like a collector’s doll, but feels like a play doll. Lee Middleton puts out high-quality collector-edition dolls that are manufactured in limited amounts. They have put the same high-quality features into this doll, but made it affordable and child friendly. Little Skylar has jointed hips and shoulders that allow her to sit or suck her thumb with ease. Her head, hands and feet are fully sculpted vinyl. She is lightweight, so young toddler girls can carry her around, but is substantial enough that playing with her will help with muscle development.

What the Kids Did
My 6-year-old daughter immediately fell in love with Little Skylar, whom she promptly renamed “Rosie,” based on the doll’s pink rosebud shirt and rose hair ornament. She quickly discovered that the doll can suck her thumb, and has styled and re-styled Little Skylar’s rooted hair again and again. Unlike her other baby dolls, this doll’s hair is still as smooth and silky as when we first got it. Little Skylar’s weight is distributed in such a way that she feels lifelike, and my daughter has even gotten in the habit of supporting the doll’s head when she picks it up.

Mom’s Recommendation
Comparing this doll to others in her category, it is easy to see its superiority. Little Skylar looks like Lee Middleton’s collector edition dolls without the price tag. Unlike other dolls in the same price bracket (think “Cabbage Patch Kids”), Little Skylar is very realistic, right down to the sculpted facial features and individually rooted eyelashes. She is a great standard size (17”) and can be used with most standard baby doll accessories (such as Joovy’s “Just-Like-Mine! Doll Booster Car Seat” reviewed below). I give Little Skylar my highest recommendation, as she is both a high-quality product and a great value. Any little girl who is even remotely interested in baby dolls is sure to love Little Skylar.

Name: Just-Like-Mine! Doll or Stuffed Toy Booster Car Seat
Company: JOOVY (Gift Guide)
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: Dolls
Price: $34.99



Mom’s Impression
Aside from its smaller size, this doll car seat has all of the features of the real thing! Unlike similar baby doll car seats available in chain department stores, Joovy’s version is a replica of working models, right down to the seatbelt clip and five-point harness system. The doll buckles into the seat the same way a child would, and provides an example for kids to follow. Joovy also makes a carrier car seat model, complete with buckle-in car seat base. I am very impressed at the detail, right down to adjustable shoulder-height slots for the straps. If the seat were any bigger I would think it was designed for a child to use.

What the Kids Did
This car seat is buckled in my minivan next to my daughter’s booster car seat. She uses it for her baby doll (although it can be used for stuffed animals as well) Little Skylar every time we go out. The extra time it took to buckle in her doll when she first started using it was well spent, because she can now buckle in herself and the doll quickly and safely. My daughter used to argue about buckling into her car seat, but now that she is caring for her baby doll and making sure the doll is safely buckled, she is getting herself buckled more readily.

Mom’s Recommendation
Children using this seat for their dolls won’t be confused by differences from their own seats, because there aren’t any. The doll car seat is sturdy and made to be safe in case of a car accident (i.e., it won’t fly around the car because it is securely buckled in.). It provides a good example for the child and increases his or her awareness of car safety. This product’s true beauty of detail, however, is not apparent on the box. I would recommend displaying a model so that customers can view the true functionality of the product and appreciate Joovy’s attention to detail.

Name: FLY Pentop Computer
Company: LEAPFROG
Age: 8 to 13
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: Electronics
Price: $99.00



Mom’s Impression
The FLY pen is an amazing innovation, combining a visual scanner and mini computer in an oversized pen. Supplemental software is available in subjects such as math and language, and a variety of game packages is sold separately as well. The talking pen has a speaker, but thankfully ear buds are included. One drawback is that the FLY pen only functions with specially designed FLY paper. Also, it runs on a single AAA-battery unless the recharging dock is purchased separately.

What the Kids Did
My 12-year-old son was most impressed with the FLY pen. It has a cool, sleek look and a lot of fun features, such as mixing your own music. He had to practice until he could write clearly enough for the pen to read his handwriting, but I didn’t have any trouble with it. We did have some trouble using the included sample game pad because there is a strip that the pen needs to scan and, unless the strip is held flat and steady, it won’t scan properly.

Mom’s Recommendation
The information on the packaging seems exaggerated until you actually try the product. The FLY pen has several built-in features (e.g., calculator, scheduler, musical instrument), but the real capabilities of the FLY pen are apparent when used in conjunction with the various supplemental software cartridges. I have recently noticed that a lot of stores don’t carry many of the supplemental software packages. I would recommend carrying the FLY pen as well as an assortment of educational software packages and one or two game titles. Parents are more apt to invest in a learning system such as the FLY Pentop Computer if there is educational software to justify the expense. As a parent, I would also want the recharging dock available for purchase … and plenty of FLY Open Paper Refills!

Name: FLY Through Algebra
Company: LEAPFROG
Age: 11 to 17
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: Educational
Price: $34.99



Mom’s Impression
This software set makes purchasing the FLY Pentop Computer worthwhile. Middle school students who may be having difficulty in algebra class will benefit from this software, provided that they actually use it. Most kids in the target age range do not read instruction manuals; consequently, quick-start instruction videos are available online for every FLY Pentop software set. It is easy to learn how to use the software features, and the FLY pen can be used to help solve linear equations in a short time. The package includes the software cartridge, graph paper, open paper, pencil cartridge and lead, interactive glossary, study sheet, manual, and quick-scan control panel. All of the included components even come in a sturdy cardboard storage file box.

What the Kids Did

My 12-year-old is having trouble understanding some concepts in algebra. The FLY Through Algebra cartridge gives hints and tips as he uses the FLY pen to solve single variable equations. It is like having a tutor working with him. And because the pen is telling him what to do (instead of me telling him), he pays more attention to the tips and explanations.

Mom’s Recommendation
I was most impressed by the progress I saw after my son used this software. The FLY pen is fun and gimmicky (in a good way) and, when coupled with the educational software, makes learning and remembering algebraic concepts easy. The price of the software equals one tutoring session, but it can be used over and over again. The only downside is that, again, it only works with FLY paper.

Name: FLY Through Writing
Company: LEAPFROG
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: Educational



Mom’s Impression
Although most kids in middle school are learning to use computers for essay writing, this software set depends on writing with the FLY pen. However, the benefits to using the FLY Through Writing software for rough drafts are tremendous. The software set comes with idea maps, story starters, and drafting paper to help guide students through the preliminary writing processes. There is an editing feature as well, to help students revise their essays for content and grammar. And all of the components come with a sturdy cardboard storage box.

What the Kids Did
My 7th grader is getting more and more essay assignments in school, and he was excited to try using the software for his pre-write work. The idea maps and story-starter prompts seem to be most useful to him because has trouble sorting through his ideas and organizing the parts of his essays. He then used the information from the idea map and story starter to write his essay using a word-processing program on the computer. He had a much easier time organizing the ideas and information that he wanted to write about and it took much less time for him to actually write his essay. The pre-write work also seemed less tedious because using the FLY pen made it more like a game.

Mom’s Recommendation
Again, I see the educational software as the reason to purchase a FLY Pentop Computer. The software is designed to accomplish work and learning in a fun way so that kids are more likely to retain the information and complete their work. I do not see this software as a substitute for writing using a computer, but it is a wonderful supplement. Anything that makes homework seem easier or more fun is worth the investment. I’d recommend carrying several key educational titles along with the FLY Pentop Computer and recharging dock. Kids are already pretty interested in talking computer pens, but parents need to be sold on the idea that the FLY pen is educational and not another “toy.” This educational software accomplishes that.

Name: New Orleans Playground
Company: PUTUMAYO KIDS (Gift Guide)
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: Audio & Cassette & CD
Price: $14.98



Mom’s Impression
What a unique collection of songs for kids! The mood created by the music is immediately uplifting. There are countless CDs available for kids, but it is rare to find a music CD that entertains both child and adult. In our home, only three children’s music CD’s are played repeatedly (I have mysteriously “lost” several of the least tolerable), and this collection is one of those three. The music represented on this CD transcends age and culture. And a big feel-good bonus is that a portion of the proceeds benefits the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.

What the Kids Did

The first time I played this CD was when I was working on my computer at home, with my toddler sitting on my lap. He quickly jumped up when he heard the music and immediately started dancing! The upbeat rhythm was an instant hit, and now all three of my younger kids (ages 21 months through 6 years old) ask to put it on when we are doing our toy pick-up time.

Mom’s Recommendation
This CD is unique and fun. There are several familiar artists represented, such as Fats Domino, and other names I didn’t recognize. The music speaks for itself, though, and there isn’t a kid around who wouldn’t think Kermit Ruffins’ version of “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner” is hilarious. Putumayo Kids offers in-store play CDs, too, so there is no going wrong in carrying this product.

Name: What a Way to Play!
Company: VERY DERRYBERRY PRODUCTIONS (Gift Guide)
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: Audio & Cassette & CD
Price: $12.00



Mom’s Impression
This kids’ collection of music features a couple of classics and some very creative lyrical songs.

What the Kids Did
My 5-year-old-son likes the CD and plays the first song (“My Dog’s My Buddy”) repeatedly. We sometimes use the last three songs to lullaby the toddler to sleep for naptime.

Mom’s Recommendation
Kids may be intrigued because the singer is the voice of Jimmy Neutron, though the songs are not done in Jimmy Neutron’s voice. It is a fun collection for kids aged 5 years and younger.

Name: You Mix It – Secret Formula Lab
Company: SMARTLAB TOYS
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: Science & Nature



Mom’s Impression
Think classic chemistry set, only safe! The front flap of the SmartLab box opens to reveal the “Book About Secret Experiments.” The other contents are visible through a clear window and include test tubes, test-tube rack, test-tube tongs, glow-in-the-dark powder, beaker, stir rod, and funnel. Some of the experiments that kids can make include glowing alien blood, rock candy and litmus paper. All of the experiments can be performed with simple products that most of us have in our cupboards already.

What the Kids Did

We did a few of the experiments, and the favorites by far were glowing alien slime and bubbling fungus. My 5-year-old son wants to do everything listed in the book, and we are slowly making our way through them all. Every experiment we have done has worked just as described, which is not usually the case with other kits.

Mom’s Recommendation
I highly recommend this set. SmartLab has put together another amazing kid-friendly science set that is both fun and educational. I am always impressed at the clear and easy-to-follow instruction books that have become SmartLab’s signature feature. Best of all, the experiments actually work, which is important to keep younger kids interested in science. The only drawback to the kit is that it doesn’t include everything necessary for the experiments.

Name: Diner Dash
Company: BRIGHTER MINDS MEDIA
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: Video Games



Mom’s Impression
“Diner Dash” is a new spin on classic logic games, combining matching skills with planning and sequencing skills. It is both entertaining and stimulating, and appeals to all age levels. The packaging is bright, with a front flap that opens to reveal a sample screenshot from the game. There are 50 levels, five restaurants, and two modes of game play.

What the Kids Did
My 12-year-old and I are somewhat addicted to “Diner Dash.” The game instructions are clear and simple, but playing well is challenging. Even my 5- and 6-year-olds have played the game on the easy level of its “endless shift” mode successfully and had fun. Play can also be performed at medium and difficult levels.

Mom’s Recommendation
This is a great family PC game; we’ve been playing steadily for almost a month and are still having fun! There are cell-phone versions of “Diner Dash” available, so the title is familiar to a lot of people already. The price is competitive, and it is widely appealing.

Name: I Spy Spooky Mansion
Company: SNAP TV INC.
Age: 6 and Up
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: Video Games
Price: $19.95



Mom’s Impression
More and more DVDs are coming with bonus features that include mini-games. Here is a DVD that is specifically designed to be a detailed full-length video game that is as maneuverable as the mini-games that so many kids already know. Like the ever popular “I Spy” books, the “I Spy Spooky Mansion” game DVD combines riddles and poetry with memory and visual finding skills. The riddles both scroll on the screen (to build reading skills) and are spoken so that kids who can’t read yet are still able to play.

What the Kids Did
My 5-year-old son, an avid “I Spy” fan already, was very excited to start playing. The “spooky mansion” is spooky without being scary ― another plus because the game is geared towards the younger elementary school set. My son plays this game over and over and seems to enjoy the riddles and object-finding sections most. The more challenging puzzles (e.g., unscrambling messages and collecting items) are still too difficult for him, but I can see him quickly growing into that section of the game.

Mom’s Recommendation
This game looks like a video game (PlayStation, Game Cube, etc.), but play is less complicated because the child maneuvers using the DVD remote by making simple menu selections. The narrator guides players, making game play less complicated. Kids will enjoy exploring the spooky mansion and looking for clues and parents will like that the kids are learning problem-solving and reasoning skills as they play. Best of all, there are multiple endings to the game (unlike most video games) and each time the player restarts, the clues and riddles change, making the game fun to play again and again.



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Emilie HillWriter's Bio: Emilie Hill has taught kids of all ages everything from swimming to physics for more than 15 years. She has four children of her own, ranging in age from a toddler to 12 years. In addition, she writes for an online community of moms. Read more articles by this author

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