The Parents’ Choice core team is a small group of talented and fun-loving professionals that leads the orchestra of reviewers, writers and family testers with whom we are so fortunate to work.
Our extended team is a treasured group of experts and critics. They are the constellation that guides us through the ever-changing landscape of children’s media and toys.
Their areas of expertise, hard work, and determination shape our assessment of the unfathomable number of products we review each year. When asked to review a toy, or a book or an app, they poke, prod, and consider. Their evaluations are conducted with the eyes, ears, and experience of skilled professionals from diverse disciplines. When asked to write an article, they add a layer of kindness and care only a parent or once-in-a-lifetime teacher can provide. When asked questions either practical or rhetorical, they answer with insight and foresight.
It is with their help that Parents’ Choice Foundation’s standards first set benchmarks. It is through their commitment that the integrity of the Parents’ Choice Awards evaluation process has been so highly respected for more than 34 years. We invite you to meet our experts, our colleagues, and our dear friends.
Our Core Team
Claire is president of Parents' Choice Foundation and cofounder of Sandbox Summit®. She looks for toys and media that will unleash children's interests, and celebrate the fun of learning.
Claire serves on the selection committee for the National Toy Hall of Fame® at the Strong National Museum of Play® and is a member of the Toy of the Year (TOTY) nomination committee for the Toy Industry Association. Prior to heading Parents' Choice Foundation, Claire wrangled the national press corps for Presidential visits, the international press for the 1996 Olympics Broadcasting Unit, served as Deputy Campaign Manager for a U.S. Senate race, produced award-winning film and video projects, and directed large-scale public events. Claire graduated from Goucher College where she majored in Visual Arts and Political Science. She lives in the middle of the woods in Maryland with her husband Tom, and their dog Sammy, aka The Happiest Puppy on the Planet.
Favorite childhood toys:
Her bicycle, puppets, and the Phantom Tollbooth, were evidence that the journey of imagination was of utmost importance.
Jacqueline is the Vice President of Parents’ Choice. Inspired by her nieces and nephews and the many other young people in her life, she is passionate about empowering them through education and play.
She has focused her career in lead marketing and strategic development roles at consumer, nonprofit and high-tech companies including TiVo, Wild Planet Toys, Center for Asian American Media and Nestlé USA. She is the Founder/Principal of ZiZo Consulting, a boutique marketing firm and was the Managing Director of MoCo West, a marketing communications agency. While living in Oahu, she reported stories for Hawaii Public Radio.
Jacqueline is a graduate of Stanford University and the Anderson School of Business at UCLA and was selected as a 1997 Coro Fellow. Jacqueline is an avid traveler and writer, and her writing has been published in Travelers' Tales anthologies. She lives in Sonoma County, California, with her husband where - when not spending way too much time keeping their vegetable garden alive – they enjoy biking the wine country's backroads.
Favorite childhood toys :
Giant Tinker Toys, Monopoly, my mom’s clothes and high heel shoes (both a superhero device and dress accessory!)
Favorite Parents’ Choice Award winners:
Rory's Story Cubes
Jessica has been working with the Parents' Choice Foundation for over 12 years and has been the architect and designer behind the many faces of our website. She is the proud mother of two very active boys who have greatly appreciated having a mommy who likes to work with toys, books, apps and many forms of playful learning.
As a child, Jessica’s favorite toys were LEGOs and her 64-count Crayola crayon box. She turned these creative endeavors, and her obsession with Pantone colors, into a digital design career founding h2x multimedia, a web design and development company. Jessica is a graduate of Towson University and University of Baltimore. When detached from her computer, Jessica uses running, biking and yoga to train for duathlons and adventures with the kids.
Favorite childhood toys:
Barbie, Lego, Crayons
Keri is the Parents’ Choice Awards Program Manager who is responsible for keeping the awards application and evaluation process running smoothly. From Toy Fair in February, to the Holiday Guide in the Fall, Keri keeps the Parents’ Choice gears in motion. She enjoys camping, the beach, and making six pounds of macaroni salad when two will do. Keri’s love of family and children gives her a perfect playground for her work. She lives in suburban Maryland with her 7 year old son, fiancé, and their expert traveler Chihuahua named Zena.
Favorite childhood toys:
My Strawberry Shortcake doll that blew strawberry kisses, my mint green scooter, my brothers He-Man and G.I. Joe Dolls
Favorite Parents’ Choice Award winners:
Ogo Sport Disc Set, Playmobil Take Along Puppet Theatre, Mini Micro 3-in-1
Kristen is responsible for writing and curating the “Read More. Play More. Learn More.” blog. She is helping Parents' Choice to continue to build an engaged community of parents via social media platforms and email newsletter updates. Kristen worked hard to be able to play well, having studied Sociology at Clemson University, as well as General Fine Arts, and Community Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The flying trapeze and after-school arts enrichment programming are some of her passions as well as connecting people to other people, places and things they could love.
Favorite childhood toys:
The treehouse my Dad built based on the scale models he taught my sister and I to construct out of popsicle sticks.
Our Extended Team
Lahri is a father, writer, historian, designer and illustrator, and a professor of art at Holyoke Community College in western Massachusetts. His written work includes articles for Dirty Linen, the Magazine of Folk & World Music, Scotland Today, Whole Earth Quarterly, as well as numerous liner notes for CD collections. His artwork has been published internationally, and includes book and magazine illustration, posters, note-cards, CD covers and large scale public works. He lives in the village of Lake Pleasant, Massachusetts with wife, stripy cat and way too many books.
Favorite childhood toys: Paint, paper, pencils, crayons, glue, rope, twine, sticks, leaves, mud and my imagination.
Favorite Parents’ Choice Award winners: Too hard to pick one; but any CD that respects the fact that even the youngest child can recognize good quality music, which nurtures, rather than simply entertains.
Gina Catanzarite is an award-winning television producer, writer, teacher, and media consultant who operates her company, Arania Productions, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She began her career in 1987 and counts six Emmy awards, seventeen Emmy nominations, a Matrix award, two Pennsylvania Broadcaster’s Association Awards, four Telly Awards, and a screenwriting grant from the Theatre Association of Pennsylvania, among her professional honors. Broadcast credits include writing and producing national documentaries for PBS; two series for HGTV; and a variety of statewide and local broadcast programs. She is the co-author of Lucille’s Car Care (Hyperion, 1996); and served as contributing editor for the book Riding The AirWaves (Schano/Geyer Printing Company, 2006.) Catanzarite also serves as an adjunct faculty member at two Pittsburgh universities; and she conducts media literacy and writing workshops for the non-profit arts organization Luminari. Gina Catanzarite is a 1987 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh; and currently is pursuing her Masters for Journalism Educators at Kent State University.
Favorite childhood toys: I loved Fisher Price people and then moved on to Barbie dolls. I really credit those toys for kicking off my writing career because they allowed me to create elaborate storylines for my characters.
Favorite Parents' Choice Award winner: Disney History Connections: Colonial America DVD -- From the writing to the production value, motion graphics, and editing, this DVD represents the high-water-mark of production that can be as entertaining as it is educational.
Barbara Chamberlin is passionate about technology and learning, both as a parent to two young boys and as a university researcher. At New Mexico State University, she directs research on and development of educational games and software at the Learning Games Lab. She is currently working on exergames (videogames that encourage physical activity), math and science-related learning tools. She and her husband also develop apps, driven by the learning needs of their children. Her favorite way to spend time is always engaged in some kind of activity with her kids, be it digital or analog.
Favorite childhood toys:
My sister and I had a recycled console from an old washing machine, with dials and buttons. We spent hours playing outside while my parents built our house, and that console controlled our spaceship to the moon, established communications with different species, and helped us operate surprisingly complex imaginary machinery. Why doesn't someone sell this? "Old junkyard panel... complete with rusty holes and dangerously sharp edges!"
Big yellow Tonka dump truck. It is amazing how much time I spent moving dirt from one part of the yard to another with the fabulously heavy, wonderfully rolly and easy-to-spot-among-dried-leaves truck.
Blip. One of the very first handheld "videogames", This simple game of table tennis allowed two players to anticipate where a ball would go, similar to two player "pong". My sister and I played this until we wore the text off the buttons, and they refused to push anymore. Even after the "3" button stopped working from overuse, we continued to play, abdicating a game whenever a ball would go to that part of the screen.
Favorite Parent's Choice Award winner: Don't make me pick just one!
Tracey turned a childhood obsession with LEGO's into an adult love of all things architecture. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the non-profit Baltimore Architecture Foundation and is the co-owner of a Baltimore-based architectural antiques business. Her passion for architecture extends into the historic home she shares with her architect husband and son. When not chasing her toddler around or looking up at a tall building she dreams of the day she can get back on her motorcycle and continue seeing the world.
Favorite childhood toys: Not surprisingly, Legos and Books
Emily grew up playing with Little People and wooden blocks, often together, but was always sorry not to have had an erector set. She lives with her husband, three children, five cats, and thousands of LEGOs in Blacksburg, Virginia. She holds a BSE in electrical engineering and computer science from Duke University and a Master's in computer engineering from Georgia Tech. After teaching for two years at Virginia Tech she elected to work at home and is now a home schooling parent, vocalist, and perpetual Girl Scout.
Favorite Parents' Choice Award winners: Playmobil sets and ThinkFun’s Chocolate Fix.
Teresa DiFalco is a mother, writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. As an English major, jazz pianist and computer geek she thrives on a steady diet of words, music and numbers. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The Oregonian, The New York Times and a number of family-oriented publications. She’s been reading, playing and learning for quite some time and knows one Mozart sonata by heart. Her work is inspired by her children, whose creative energy never ceases to amaze her.
Favorite childhood toys: I remember three standouts – my colorful wooden building blocks, Spyrograph, and Milton Bradley’s electronic game Simon. The launch party for Simon was held at Studio 54 in 1978. Computer programmers and Andy Warhol, I love that.
Favorite Parents’ Choice Award winners: My children and I love Rory’s Story Cubes. You can play with them anywhere and it’s never the same experience twice. Also, I’m crazy about Puppets on a Stick. They have a quirky appeal and like Story Cubes, inspire creativity. They remind me of the puppets my children used to make from popsicle sticks, cotton balls and googly-eye stickers for impromptu theater behind the couch.
Caitlin Feeley is a game designer and project manager at MIT’s Education Arcade. As a child, her favorite toys included a butterfly net and microscope; she also unnerved other students at Show and Tell by bringing in jellyfish she had preserved in formaldehyde. Perhaps inevitably, her areas of interest now include STEM topics, informal learning, and investigative play. Her past projects have covered topics ranging from statistics and data analysis to forensic anthropology. In 2011, Caitlin oversaw the development and release of Vanished, a collaborative science mystery game co-developed with the Smithsonian, which reached over 6,500 players. She holds a master’s degree in Technology, Innovation and Education from Harvard University.
Favorite childhood toys: butterfly net, microscope, stuffed otter puppet
Laura Fries holds a BA in English and a minor in photo journalism from West Virginia University. She started her career as a junior reporter covering business and banking, but soon found features and entertainment writing were a better fit. Since then she’s been covering entertainment and media literacy for national publications including Variety. As a 20-year member of the Television Critics Association, she approaches her reviews and stories not only as someone familiar with the industry, but as a fan. Her favorite toys as a child was a Fischer Price doll house and a set of Tinker Toys that even went on family vacations with her. Her favorite Parents’ Choice winner is the reality/kid/game show Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman. She lives with husband Jack, teenage daughter Emma and Bombay cat Sawyer in Alexandria, Virginia.
Parents’ Choice music critic Lynne Heffley, a former staff arts writer and children’s arts and entertainment reporter for the Los Angeles Times, writes about the arts and general topics for various publications and non-profits. She is a manuscript editor, theater critic, book reviewer and a founding member of the Journalism Shop, a freelance cooperative consisting of ex-LA Times professionals available to publications, nonprofits and businesses for reporting, design, editing, PR, marketing, research and special projects. In her spare time, when she’s not reading or taking an early morning hike, Lynne is apt to be found strumming American Songbook standards and Tin Pan Alley novelty songs on one of her seven ukuleles.
Favorite childhood toys: Besides reading, playing word games, climbing trees and running through tall grass (pretending I could fly or that I was a wild horse), making up plays (typically based on Charlie Chaplin silent movies that my dad took us to), my favorite playthings were modeling clay, pencil and paper, and a little sawdust-stuffed, velveteen bee wearing a cap.
Favorite Parents’ Choice Award winner: Wow. That is incredibly hard to answer. I don’t have one top favorite. I add to the list every year. So my choice is just one of so many that have inspired in me a sense of discovery and deep appreciation for both the quality of the music itself and the creative thought behind it: “The Days Gone By,” Ted Jacobs’ truly inspired transformation of 19th century poetry by James Whitcomb Riley, Poe, Longfellow, Emily Dickinson and Eugene Field into gorgeous songs resonant with the images and emotions of childhood.
Alexis Lauricella received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Georgetown University and is currently a research associate at Northwestern University. Alexis studies how children learn from new media technologies and how parents and teachers use media with young children. Her passion for education and learning was inherited from her mother who was a teacher for more than 35 years. Alexis has learned about children both through her studies and through her experiences working at childcare centers, babysitting, and now with two little girls at home her learning is never ending! As part of her dedication to education, Alexis started www.PlayLearnParent.com, a website that translates child development research for parents.
Favorite childhood toys: Matchbox cars, My Little Ponies, and the game, Sorry!
Favorite Parents’ Choice Award winner: To date, the Doodlecast app.
Naomi Lesley taught young adult literature to middle and high school students for six years. She received her Master's Degree specializing in children's literature from San Diego State University, and is now pursuing a doctorate from the George Washington University. Naomi currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and son. Because her family moves frequently, she is constantly aware that she has far too many books, which are extremely tedious (and heavy) to pack and unpack. Despite this, she continues to look forward to reading the new Parents’ Choice books when they arrive.
Favorite childhood toys: (Not counting books) Her stuffed animals, especially an enormous and very dilapidated stuffed dolphin named Dolphy. She also played endlessly with two dolls dressed in historical 19th century costumes.
Favorite Parents' Choice Award winner: Jenny Hubbard's Paper Covers Rock which Naomi cites as “beautifully crafted and combines suspenseful plot development, thoughtful characterization, and attention to social issues of great importance to teens and adults.”
Ann Oldenburg, a blogger and reporter for USA Today, has covered entertainment from the Washington, D.C. area for more than 25 years. She is a University of Florida Gator with a degree in journalism, and she began her career at The Washington Post. Through the years, she has done freelance work for TV Guide and Parents magazine, and she co-authored The Dog Lover's Companion to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore with her husband, editor/writer Don Oldenburg. Ann loves the beach - and it's a romance that started early. As a navy brat, she lived in Key West, Fla., Coronado, Calif., and Guam, along with a few other coastal towns. As an adult, she has visited eight Caribbean islands and Mexico. She and Don have three sons and live in McLean, VA., where they built a beach in their backyard. Seriously!
Favorite childhood toys: I remember spending hours playing with a dollhouse my grandfather built for me, a notepad and pencil I used for playing waitress, and Lincoln Logs that I used for building houses. (I later considered majoring in architecture before switching to journalism. I have yet to work as a waitress.)
Favorite Parents' Choice Award winner: Nick News with Linda Ellerbee. Although it's geared to teens, we all would benefit from checking out an episode.
A former writer and columnist at The Washington Post for 22 years, Don Oldenburg is the editor at The National Italian American Foundation. He is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion" and “Dear Mr. President,” a book of children’s advice to President Bill Clinton.
Packed away in his basement with a ragged Davey Crocket coonskin cap and his first baseball glove, among other childhood treasures, is an old, 10-inch, die-cast Hubley Steam Road Roller. Special not for its play value but for how he got it—at a carnival bingo game at age seven—it was the first thing he remembers winning besides a ballgame.
The proud father of three sons, he and wife, Ann, a writer at USA Today, live in McLean, Va.
Favorite Parents’ Choice Award winner: So many great books and classic games (nothing beats Scrabble), but, in this 13th year of the “Madden NFL Football” videogame franchise, touchdown!
C. Ryan Patterson is a stay-at-home dad, and community based artist who lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife Rachel and their two sons. Ryan, who holds a BFA in fine art from the Maryland Institute College of Art, often works with local community groups and non-profits to make illustrations, leads community art projects and designs fun and educational programming that brings communities together to celebrate public parks, community gardens and the best parts of urban life. Rachel, Ryan, and their friend Mary collaborate to create shadow puppet shows under the title Porch Puppets. Ryan’s recent creative projects include organizing, The Big Draw in Wyman Park Dell, a new puppet show based up on Ellen Raskin's Nothing Ever Happens On My Block. Ryan will be the inaugural Community Arts in Residence at the Kentucky School of Art in the Spring of 2013.
Favorite childhood toys: His green army men, Hot Wheels, and his beloved bike.
Zarina has never outgrown her love of children’s literature. She has taught in the English department at Illinois Wesleyan University for several years, and recently returned to the other side of the classroom to earn a degree in elementary education. Some of her favorite classroom (and parenting) moments involve sharing a love of reading and writing with children. Zarina lives in a book-filled house in central Illinois with her family.
Favorite childhood toys: My Victorian dollhouse, Barbies, and my paper dolls.
Favorite Parents’ Choice winner: Not surprisingly, I love the American Doll Room. The details and design components are great.
Dr. Karena Rush is a professor in the Psychology Department at Millersville University. She received an A.B. in Psychology at Bryn Mawr College, an M.Ed. in Child Development and Early Childhood Risk and Prevention at Harvard University, and a Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology at LSU. Prior to teaching at Millersville, Karena was a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a psychologist at Sheppard Pratt Hospital where she worked with children with special needs. Karena has two young daughters and spends most of her free time outdoors with her family and old English sheepdog.
Favorite childhood toy: A Community Playthings wooden train set (big enough for children to sit on and ride around). I still have it today and now my daughters enjoy playing with it.
Favorite Parents’ Choice Award winner: The Timberworks Toys block set as it reminds me of the same high quality wooden toys of my childhood.