Safety issues remain

I just got an amazing new collection of small wooden blocks…150 pieces with an even greater price. The quality is very good–there are both plain and colored blocks.  I was really psyched -hoping we could get a safety verification form quickly so that we could put it on our Platinum List.  But then I looked at the age label 2 & up and while all of the pieces pass the federal guidelines for small parts with a choke tube, the pieces are just a tad bigger than the regulations provide. In otherwords, they are legal but if you used a toilet paper roller (recommended to consumers by the CPSC), the pieces would fail.

This year we got many many sets with toys for pieces that are unnecessarily small.  And while you could argue that your two year old may not choke, the pieces could certainly gag your toddler. If you’ve watched toddlers play, you  know they still taste their toys.

There is no developmental or educational value of smaller parts for this age group that outweighs the safety issues poses by these smaller pieces.

So – yes toys are much safer this holiday season.  The toy industry is now required to pre-test toys -rather than the old self-regulation systems.  But still know that you are still the best consumer advocate your child can have.   We  still advise you to take a toilet paper roller and do your own at home test.  If the toy fits within diameter of the roller, put it away for now.

A tale of two mothers….

Everything is about how you look at things.  I’ve been following the Tiger saga (which oddly makes me miss the Michael Jackson coverage – since that became a daily excuse to show clips of his earlier happier days that track my own childhood memories).  Yes, I feel terrible for Tiger’s wife and kids–but I’m also thinking about his mom.  She goes from having the son that the entire  world admires– to having the most famous cad.

As the mother of two boys, I’ve always taken raising kind, considerate, polite young men very seriously.  I hope my sons will grow up to be wonderful husbands and fathers.  Their dad has set an amazing example of what a great dad and husband looks like – he loves his boys so dearly and has never been afraid to tell them or show them with his attention.  He treats all of the women in his life with love…and when I say all of his women, I mean me, his mother and my mother.

So I was thinking of Tiger’s mother while I was standing on line this afternoon at Whole Foods.  The young man helping to check me out, saw the plant I was buying and asked whether he thought his mother would appreciate a plant for Christmas.  I was so taken by his thoughtfulness–we discussed where to get the biggest poinsettia (at the store with his discount or at the Union Square Market) and which color she’d prefer.  After getting over the fact that he kept calling me ma’am …I wished him a happy holiday and knew that his mom would enjoy her present that came with great affection from her son.

Made me think that no matter how many poinsettias Tiger sends him mom this holiday season, it won’t be as joyful as the single one brought by the Whole Foods young man.

Pick of the Day: Lisa LeLeu's Super Star Theater

If you have kids that are into performing, here’s a big ticket item from Lisa LeLeu that is very special. Click here to read our complete review. My apologies to the company–this award winning toy got lost in the shuffle when we switched over to our new website!

PETA's gives a thumbs up to ZhuZhu Hamster Pets

When all the buzz started about ZhuZhu Hamsters, one of the comments we received was whether PETA would support such “fake” animals.  So we asked for a statement from PETA, here is there official statement:

Toys such as Zhu Zhu hamsters and other robotic animals give kids an opportunity to play and cuddle with their furry friends without contributing to animal overpopulation. PETA’s undercover <https://secure.peta.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&amp;page=UserAction&amp;id=1133&amp;formPg=explanation> investigations <http://www.petsmartcruelty.com/investigation_manchester.asp> have revealed that small animals are often bred and abused just as puppies in puppy mills—and just as kittens—are. Facilities breed hundreds of thousands of animals every year in deplorable conditions in order to supply pet stores with animals, compounding the overpopulation crisis. These deplorable mills will continue to operate and profit from the misery that they produce until people stop buying ALL animals from pet stores.

Pick of the Day: Zebra Mix Cookie Baking Activity Set

Making cookies is part of the holidays–and I’ve discovered you either fall into one of three camps on the whole make your own:

1. CAMP ONE -  you buy store bought, have learned that if you put them in the microwave you can achieve some of that fresh from the oven warmth. (If you’re rolling your eyes at this you clearly belong in Camp 2.)

2. CAMP TWO- Homemade from scratch- You know who you are–the thought of using a mix seems downright immoral, unethical–for wimps.  I applaud you guys but it’s not my thing.  My entire family mourned when one of our neighbors moved away – and took her weekly delivery of fresh baked cookies with her. Yet, there was no grand rush to do it ourselves.

3. CAMP THREE – You’re a middle-of-the-roader. You like the idea of homebaked but you don’t have the time or inclination to join Camp 2.  In fact, every time I look at the big Kitchen Aid mixer–I pause and think of the pair of really amazing shoes that could be purchased instead.  Whie  I am well-knowned for my home baked cookies – they are I must admit  courtesy of the flat brick from the kind folks at Tollhouse.  The innovation of the brick from the roll was one of the best things that happened in the world of pre-made dough…really.

Last year when Nestle had a slight problem  with their pre-made doughs (something unfortunate like E. coli) my younger son looked really crestfallen–no cookies?  When I suggested we could make them from scratch, he took a double take “you know how to do that?”  With that gauntlet thrown down, I bravely walked where this mom had not be in a very long time…the baking aisle.  And while we completely enjoyed the experience of adjusting the recipe as we made several batches (we left a key ingredient out of batch two–who knew that leaving out the baking soda could make a difference)  – we agreed — the Tollhouse brick was still our favorite.  It’s kind of like really enjoying Heinz ketchup or JIF peanut butter to fancier versions.

So when we first received the Zebra Mix Cookies Activity Set (Zebra Mix) –we were curious but I didn’t feel I could be completely impartial when it came to cookies, toys yes…but cookies?  So we quickly dispatched the kits to two of our clutch family testers.  They LOVED them. 

One family wrote:

“Literally the friendliest step by step instructions! I was able to leave the kitchen while the kids stirred and poured, I was only needed for entering the cupcakes into the oven and for mixing the icing. The instructions are in the form of a map which made following the instructions so easy for the girls…So instructions and packaging was great but most importantly TASTE! The cupcakes tasted great! “  Both families loved some of the kits come in Zebra printed metal lunchboxes–that all the kids wanted to use immediately.

So could you make cookies for less at home, of course. The kits range from $14.95 to about $22. But if you’re looking for a fun project or birthday present that may spark an interest in baking…these kits are worth considering. Click here to read our full review.

Don't Forget the Crayons!

We sometimes get caught up with getting the latest novelty toy of the season…but sometimes the most enjoyed gifts are the products that get little air time and media buzz.

One of the best presents you can give any child is a basket full of art supplies.  If you can remember how great a new box of 64 Crayola Crayons smelled…you know what I’m talking about.  Whether it’s crayons, markers, a juicy pad of paper…all of these can spark a renewed interest in exploring their creative side!

Pick of the Day: Leapfrog's TAG and TAG Junior

If you’re looking for a high tech learning toy this season, we high recommend Leapfrog’s TAG and TAG Junior reading systems.  Both marry technology with collections of award winning books. Do they replace reading a book with your child? Of course not–but they will encourage your kids to explore and “read” books on their own.

Full review and shopping info for both

TAG Reading System

TAG Junior Reading System

We’d skip their My Pal Scout–this is designed to be an interactive pet for toddlers.  We found him to be less than huggable and the skills he’s meant to teach are better taught with real life experiences.  All of the current interactive, downloadable dolls on the market pale in comparison to the old Actimates from Microsoft.  Their original Barney really became Barney for little children. It was truly magical to watch kids interact with this doll.  This doll doesn’t  compare.

Adapting Toys for Kids with Special Needs

Interesting video about the work they’re doing at Ohio State University Medical Center for children with special needs.  They have a toy library where toys have been adapted to better suit the needs of kids that come to their center.  Watch the video

To find out if there is a toy library in your area, visit the USA Toy Library Association website.

For a list of toys that need little or no adapting, see our list of SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Product) Award winners on our site at www.toyportfolio.com.

For a list of toys for kids with ADHD, read our article. To watch a video discussing the topic, click here.

Bratz live another day…

We received this statement from MGA regarding the stay granted to MGA –allowing them to keep the Bratz dolls on the shelf.

PASADENA, CA—December 09, 2009 – The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has stayed the recall of MGA Entertainment’s Bratz line and all associated products. Under the stay, retailers will be able to continue selling all of MGA Entertainment’s Bratz products. The order was filed by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Circuit Judges Stephen S. Trott and Kim McLane Wardlaw following an appellate hearing on the case earlier in the day.

“The Court’s stay is good news for all Bratz fans and for anyone who cares about faircompetition,” said Isaac Larian, CEO of MGA Entertainment. “It keeps Bratz on the shelves, allows MGA Entertainment to continue meeting consumer demand for new Bratz products, and prevents Mattel from taking control of the billion-dollar international Bratz brand built by MGA Entertainment while the Court makes its final decision. We are gratified by the Court’s decision and look forward to receiving the Court’s decision on our appeal.”

Now it’s no secret–we’re not big fans of the Bratz line, but we really do like their toned down line of Moxie Girlz dolls.