Advice Column, Recently, Toddler, Toy Box

Fisher-Price Play Lab experts choose their favourite toys

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Fisher-Price’s unique Play Lab is a state-of-the-art centre where its toys are developed after being tested by parents and the real experts: the kids themselves.

It’s run by a dedicated team of child development experts who each hold advanced degrees, areas of specialty and are parents themselves, which gives them the best qualifications.

Here, three of the experts discuss five of their favourite toys that have been put through their research process by babies, toddlers and preschoolers in the Play Lab.

Crawl With Me Puppy

Chosen by Lisa Lohiser, EdD, Manager of Early Childhood Development Research 

WHAT IS IT? Kids can pull the sock in this adorable puppy’s mouth to get him moving and watch him wiggle his tail and shake his bottom as he scoots backwards, encouraging babies to crawl after him. There are three levels of Smart Stages technology. Level 1 introduces the colors, numbers, and fun puppy sounds. Level 2 encourages baby to count and sing the alphabet while crawling after puppy, while level 3 features silly puppy sounds, and fun phrases to entice baby to move and pretend.

WHO’S IT FOR? Suitable for babies and toddlers 6-36 months. The puppy was designed and tested in the Play Lab to encourage little ones who are on the verge of crawling to go.  You can place puppy just out of baby’s reach to encourage them to move towards it. Once they’re a steady crawler it becomes similar to a game, they’ll try to get to the puppy to activate him, begin to anticipate where he’s going to go next, and what he’s going to do. He’ll move away to entice them to keep going to reach him and engage with him all over again. 

HOW TO USE IT: During playtime, puppy is a perfect toy to help baby get on the move, and an opportunity for caregivers to play and engage with their little ones too. 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? The Crawl With Me Puppy can entice your baby to crawl and encourage them to go further. The puppy also has a sit-at mode, so sitting babies can press the buttons and hear the sounds, which help develop important fine and gross motor skills, too. While they play they are also exposed to early academics through sung songs and phrases.  

Let’s Connect Laptop

Chosen by Lisa Lohiser, EdD, Manager of Early Childhood Development Research 

WHAT IS IT? A fun, colourful ‘laptop’ that’s loaded with hands-on activities numbers & letters, a roller that activates content, and an LED light up mouse pad.

WHO’S IT FOR? Suitable for babies and toddlers 6-36 months old. Babies and toddlers are really attracted to items they see in their homes like phones and remotes and want their own. So we created a laptop just for them. It has buttons they can push for learning content, a mirror, a roller and a slider. It has Smart Stages technology that grows with the baby. Each level has different content. Level 1 introduces number 1-10 and greetings.  Level 2 encourages babies to explore and find objects and introduces number 1-10 in Spanish. While level 3 encourages babies to sing along and engage in pretend play. 

HOW TO USE IT: The laptop was tested via our virtual parent panels during the Covid-19 outbreak, when everyone was Zooming and laptops were very prevalent in children’s worlds. It was modified with their feedback to include the types of buttons and graphics they wanted, as well as to include a mirror with a headphones ‘filter’. Of course we also tested it with babies and toddlers to ensure they could activate all the fun content.  It’s perfect for early role play, it fosters experiential learning by introducing babies to concepts and things that they see every day.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? It helps develop fine motor skills, stimulates the senses and encourages early role play while introducing babies and toddlers to early academics and exposing them to new vocabulary. 

Cool Beats Penguin

Chosen by Lauren Celenza, Senior Child Testing Researcher

WHAT IS IT? Similar in design to Fisher-Price’s much-loved sloth Linkimal, this fun black and white moving penguin works with the other Linkimals to create an immersive learning experience for babies and toddlers through interactive music, dazzling lights & engaging learning content. This cute character moves from side to side and flaps his arms up and down to encourage babies to move and groove to the beat!

WHO’S IT FOR? Babies ages nine-months plus. Buttons on each foot activate learning content, music, movement games and phrases. It’s great for exposing little ones to the alphabet, opposites, shapes and counting – and also makes a great dance partner! 

HOW TO USE IT: Each of the Linkimals characters links virtually with the others to create an engaging learning experience for babies through interactive music and dazzling lights.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? The Cool Beats Penguin focuses on developing baby’s gross motor skills through music and motion. A four-month research study, which included testing with babies in the Play Lab with eye-tracking glasses, proved that the Linkimals toys do indeed promote learning when using multiple toys during play.

2-Sided Steady Speed Walker

Chosen by Lauren Celenza, Senior Child Testing Researcher

WHAT IS IT? An innovative speed-controlled baby walker that can be approached from both sides that underwent extensive in-depth testing in Fisher-Price’s Play Lab. This sturdy walker features activities and buttons at the base, as well as handles at both sides to allow babies to easily pull themselves up when they’re ready to walk. The two different sides allow and encourage toddlers to approach the walker from either side and get ready to take off!

WHO’S IT FOR? Six months plus. A steering wheel and shape sorting activities at the base for sitting babies, it’s perfect for babies who are learning to explore. Then, when they’re ready, they can pull themselves up to a kneeling position, and then use the two levels of handles for easy grasping as they climb to a standing position. For kids who are walking, there’s also a shape-sorter at the top for them to engage with, for a total of 3 different ways to shape sort and explore.

HOW TO USE IT: The walker will grow with your child. With car sounds and a steering wheel at the base, it’s perfect for role play for babies learning to walk, and older toddlers to pretend they’re off on an adventure jamming to some great music as they explore.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? The steady speed can help your baby to learn how to walk at their own pace, helping parents to feel secure that baby isn’t ready to speed away just yet. It also boasts Smart Stages Technology with three levels of learning, with more than 50 sounds, sounds, tunes and phrases introducing the alphabet, opposites & counting. It’s great for imaginative play too, as babies and toddlers love the familiar and realistic car sounds as they play.

Meditation Mouse

Chosen by Deborah Weber, PhD, Senior Director of Play and Early Childhood Development Research

WHAT IS IT? The Meditation Mouse is Fisher-Price’s first character toy that combines a cuddly plush with meditation to give toddlers the tools to calm themselves down, both in the daytime and in the evening to go to sleep. It incorporates two meditation modes, breathing and relaxation exercises, and walks little ones through simple steps in a super-cute child’s voice. The mindfulness toy was tested in the Play Lab, including to check the appropriateness of its content, which lasts for 20 minutes and includes rhymes such as: “Take a deep breath, nice and slow. Breath it all in, then let it all go. Close your eyes and try your best, it’s time to help our bodies rest.” It also has a white noise setting to help babies when they’re trying to put themselves to sleep, and a glowing belly light for toddlers to sync their breathing.  

WHO’S IT FOR? 2 years +. Around the age of two, toddlers start to become their own person, and realise they have a voice and words to use. It’s also an age where they’re starting to get into self-soothing and self-regulation – not only to help them go to sleep, but also to be able to reflect and control their own emotions. The Meditation Mouse gives them the tools to learn how to take a break or calm themselves down. 

HOW TO USE IT: In the beginning, we were thinking the Meditation Mouse would help with bedtime routines and helping that transition time. However, after testing it in the Play Lab and with families at home, parents told us they also used it during the day when their little one needed a moment. So we added a daytime mode, more about being mindful, and calming down, being aware of your emotions. The daytime meditation is really fun too, and allows kids to reach up their hands and play. It can also be used while out and about, in the car, or whenever they would want to have their character buddy with them for security purposes. 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? From watching children and parents interact with the Meditation Mouse in the Play Lab, I believe this toy is going to be one that gives children tools that will help them when they’re older in other situations too. Gaining those self-regulation skills to calm their body or mind are really needed and necessary from a social development perspective. They help children to carry on with others and be in class, be in daycare or be in their preschool settings. Using these tools to eventually learn how to self soothe is really critical in terms of their interactions in an environment where there’s other children or adults. The hope is that long-term they’ll be able to eventually use those skills when the mouse isn’t with them.

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