Cartons from Mattel and the new website

Just when I thought we were done with the bulk of our testing, some very large cartons arrived from Mattel today. We peeked into one box to discover My Three Muskateer Barbie–her gown turns into a cape.  It made both of us laugh. We decided to close the box for the evening. Tomorrow is another day for toy testing!

The new website is going to be fantastic. We’re busy working on getting it ready–which is why my postings have been pretty slim the last few weeks.  We’ve decided to keep up reviews of old products that are discontinued but may find their way to you through family or friends.  (With the exception of craft kits and toys that probably won’t be passed down.) These products were not required to meet our safety requirements — so now we’re deciding how to address this issue so that we’ve made that clear.

I’m hearing from a lot of you, that you’d like downloadable pdf’s of our lists…birthday lists especially. Working on finding the best way to do that as well. So if you have other suggestions keep them coming. It’s also been nice to hear from so many readers that they miss the book. As much as we liked doing the book, the freedom of space and time to work on the website has been most welcomed…neither of us miss the horrible crunch to get the manuscript done as the toys kept pouring in!

Pokemon: It's back….

I was quite surprised to discover a room full of teenage boys revisiting characters I thought had been discarded with other elements of their childhood (chicken fingers, Hanson…) –but make no mistake these little pocket monsters are back.  I guess it makes sense that “retro” for this internet, of the nano-second moment generation can already mean toys they played with just a few years ago.

Dolls you draw on…Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar

Kids Preferred is introducing a new Very Hungry Caterpillar plush that comes with markers–so that kids can draw on the caterpillar. We asked one our testers to try it out this week.  Our preschool tester, a fan of the book, enjoyed decorating her caterpillar–and her mom was happy that the ink washed out completely in the wash.  The only downside, her daughter asked if she could draw on one of her bears. Many kids probably would not have asked!  The concept of draw here, but not there–can be rough for some kids. On the other hand, this is a fun color concept toy that makes a book connection.

Our tester trying out the new Eric Carle Very Hungry Caterpillar Doll

Our tester trying out the new Eric Carle Very Hungry Caterpillar Doll

For this age, I highly recommend (if you have the space) painting a wall in your house with chalkboard paint.  Growing up in our playroom my mom did this on two big cabinet doors.  I loved being in the middle of our family buzz–working on a new design, practicing my handwriting as I got older and even working on my early math skills (truthfully, there were a lot of flower designs!).  For my kids we painted an entire wall and left a basket full  of colorful chunky outdoor chalk at the ready. With kind of space you can use your whole arm to make big bold strokes…and work on your fine motor skills when your adding details to your creations.

If you can’t paint a wall, bring home an easel that has a chalk board side.  Such an easy access art opportunity puts the focus on the process, not the product.  As any experienced preschool teacher will tell you–find something to compliment  but don’t lavish too much praise on any one creation – doing so makes it really scary to try something new!

Rubik's Cube…new site "www.youcandothecube.com"

The makers of Rubik’s Cube are aiming to help kids master the cube…and use that skill as a positive message for life. Having thrown my fair share of Rubik’s Cubes across the room as a kid….I could have used a little help!  (My brother figured it out the first afternoon, put it down in front of me and said… “there, not so hard” and left the room.  The site is www.youcandothecube.com.  I’m still a big fan of the original…our testers did not like new 360 Edition…where you have a sphere to contend with…even our best brain teaser experts felt it wasn’t the same “skill” experience.

Spinmaster RC Air Hog Switchblade

The Spinmaster RC Air Hog Switchblade — has gotten a lot of buzz lately.  It was  featured on Letterman–where happily for the company and our friend Shannon…it worked on air–much to the delight of the audience (and Dave).

So we were eager to give this one a try.  The results were decidedly mixed.  If the Switchblade is fully charged, there is no wind–and you’re relatively skilled with these types of toys–it goes up and will fly–and it  is extremely cool.   Now here’s the down side–we could only get it to do what it’s supposed to do two or three times in the course of a full afternoon of testing.   This is not a load it up, charge it, take out and fly it kind of toy — it requires much more finesse.

After having several teens try it with limited success — (they all really wanted it to work)…in come my two adult engineering friends  (one  designs drone helicopters and the other has a degree in nuclear engineering).  Nothing like watching grown men get very excited about these types of toys.  I shared the reports of the day—and they both were not satisfied. They were sure that they could get it to work.  After about a half-hour of consulting  –they both gave in and concurred with their younger counterparts.  “Great idea, poor execution.”  They then offered a much more detailed report about why it wasn’t working.  (I love these guys.  I remember when we first started  toyportfolio.com, one dad (he worked for Dupont) sent back a ten page review of an Erector set with design modifications!)

One of my go to teen testers told me that he often reinforces the very lightweight material with some duck tape–so that crashes are less likely to do permanent damage to the toys. I thought  that info was worth passing on–of course, he warned that if you don’t put it on the right way you can blow the whole aerodynamics of the toy.  Of course!

So even though this toy can be fantastic…in the end, it can not sustain the wow factor.

Pick of the Day: Prime Time's Max Liquidator

The Max Liquidator from Prime Time Toys is great fun for the pool. Unlike many other water shooting type toys, the spray in this one is not as harsh–making it a safer choice.  It also looks more like a water toy -rather than a plastic assault gun. I personally love the kickboard that has the mechanism built in…allowing you to surprise your kids when they think you’re just just floating around.

Sometimes rules are really hard…

Ok, so one of our rules about bath toys for kids is no squirters.  Yes, yes…squirters are really fun. But here’s the thing–if you don’t get all of the water out of them…and your child has taken a bath, it can pose a a problem.  (Maybe it’s a little OCD of us–but would you take a bath and then save some of the water, only to squirt it potentially in your mouth the next night?)   I guess if you really washed them out-and made sure they’re really, really empty and completely dry…

As a result, we’ve passed on lots of fun bath toys…ALEX entices us every year with new sets of squirters…and one of Corolle’s lines of dolls also come with these squirters.  We pass on them too. There is no government regulation–just our concern that used bathwater needs to go completely bye bye.

Which is why it completely pains us to pass on the new Gotz Maxy Aquini 16″ Bath Baby Doll. We love her sundress (really, I would wear it to the beach)…and her purple crocs are wonderfully hip.  Because we can’t crawl in the box and implore you throw out the froggy squirter (he’s pretty cute too)..we can’t give this doll an award–otherwise she’d be a clear winner. Really–look at her feet!

crocfeet

Toy Safety: Small Parts in Toys Still a Concern

LEGO has been a consistent winner of our top Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award each year–often with multiple winners.  This year will be no exception–except in one category.

When we were at Toy Fair in February we were really excited to see a renewed commitment to the DUPLO line–designed for kids 2 & up. There were Fire Stations,  Trucks, Zoos…all great fun and we knew our preschool testers would love giving them a try.

Each set has arrived and while they are wonderful for 3s & up, we are concerned about the size of some of the pieces in these sets for kids under three. While most of the pieces are big and chunky, we found one or two pieces that caused concern. Let us be clear, all of the pieces meet current government guidelines.  Each of the pieces in question (see images below) extend outside of the “choke tube” and therefore are completely legal.  We wondered though–why make these pieces so close?  The CPSC recommends that parents use a toilet paper roller as a home test…all of these pieces fail under this test.

So we asked the team at LEGO whether there was a design or developmental advantage to having two year olds handle such small pieces and why the pieces were so close to the edge. Here is their response:

Thanks for your question about the DUPLO Zoo* item and some of the accessories it includes.  As you know, all LEGO products are rigorously tested and meet or exceed all safety regulations in the more than 130 countries where the products are sold.  Because the safety of children is our primary concern, we also have our own safety and testing standards that we layer on top of the regulated requirements.

We always make effort to have play imitate life, so the size of the suitcase is proportionate to the DUPLO figure.  We would not include an accessory that could potentially cause harm to a child or that does not pass the CPSC standard for small parts and age grading as regulated by the official choke tube test.  The accessory does not fit completely into the choke tube and use and abuse testing reveals that it also does not break into small parts that will fit completely in the tube.  While we understand the “home” test potential of the toilet paper tube, it is not a regulated means by which to measure safety as it has no bottom to mimic a real-life scenario.

*Since we asked this question about the DUPLO Zoo, we have received several other set that raise similar issues for us.

While we appreciate that the idea of scale is important–we’d side on the up-scaling or eliminating these items for this age range.  The working light piece on the top of the  truck (one of the coolest aspects of the garbage truck–and also in the fire station set) could have been attached to a bigger piece, the fireman’s ax could be attached to his  hand, the same with the pitchfork…you get the idea. The flower and the fish…just look so inviting.

All of these products would have been Platinum Award contenders if not for these small pieces.  We do recommend them for preschoolers–but unfortunately we don’t feel comfortable with the existing age label.  If you buy one of these sets and you have a child under three or a child who still mouths his toys…remove those pieces that concern you and you’ll be left with a engaging product.

We hope LEGO will remodel these “close” pieces.  Last year, after our concern over STEP 2′s hot dogs (that came with some of their kitchens)…the hot dogs were redesigned…so that the  hot dog is now encased  in a bun–making it a much wider and safer prop for play.

Below are some of the pieces, in our opinion, that are unnecessarily too close for comfort.  Again–completely within the law, but we see no reason for them to be this size.

legolightlegoshovellegosuitcaselegoflowerlegoaxlegofish