Fairies Meet Disco

Kit comes with three lights to decorate.

Kit comes with three lights to decorate.

I’m a sucker for toys that work in the dark which is why I was super excited to try  Creativity for Kids new Color Changing Flower Lights. The kit comes with three plastic globes that have three different light settings. One is a disco ball effect that seems perfect for the fairies in your realm.  Read our full review at toyportfolio.com. Watch our video http://bit.ly/WPdOcI.

Mattel’s response to Prop 65 postings on Amazon

One of our readers pointed out that there were California Prop 65 warnings on several Mattel track sets on Amazon.  Prop 65 requires companies to provide notice that their product may contain certain chemicals that are known to cause cancer or birth defects.  Two of our current award winners were posted with such a warning. So we asked Mattel for a statement.

From Mattel:

Recently several of our Hot Wheels products: Hot Wheels Color Shifter Blaster, Hot Wheels Color Shifters Stunt Set and the Hot Wheels Tub Racers Playset were incorrectly listed on Amazon.com as requiring a California Proposition 65 warning. These warnings were posted in error and Amazon.com is working to correct this information immediately. Mattel is committed to providing safe, engaging play experiences for kids of all ages.

Thanks to our reader for pointing this out! If you’d like to read more about the history and current requirements of Prop 65, click here.

More on Cadmium

Happy to read Ravlya Ismall’s piece Why Do Jewelery Makers Get Off Easy With Cadmium?

There are certainly many issues facing the nation this year–but the lack of aggressiveness on this issue on the part of the  CPSC seems to be a step backwards when it comes to protecting our children from hidden dangers in toys and jewelry.

CPSC Backs off Tougher Standards for Cadmium in Children’s Products

Despite all indications that the CPSC was really stepping up and setting tough standards on the levels of cadmium in children’s products– today the agency backed down.  They are suggesting that the industry self-enforce.  Hmmmm? How well did that work out the last time when we were talking about lead.  We are especially concerned that children’s jewelry (that often finds its way into the mouth) is full of cadmium (instead of lead).

Here is an excerpt from the press release we received from the non-profit group  Center for Environmental Health:

“Today’s announcement falls far short of what is needed to end this health threat to children,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “California has adopted a sensible standard that should serve as a national model for limits on cadmium in children’s products. Sadly, if it goes forward, CPSC’s standard would be a step backwards for children’s health.”

In September, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law legislation banning sales of children’s jewelry that contain more than 300 parts per million (ppm) total cadmium. In advocating for the law, which had bipartisan and industry support, CEH noted that a standard based on the total amount of cadmium – and not the amount extracted in a lab solution – is more health protective for children, more enforceable for government regulators, and less expensive and less cumbersome for industry to adopt.

CEH lead testing of thousands of toys and children’s products since 2008 has demonstrated that the federal standard – based on the total lead content – has been highly successful in protecting children and meeting industry’s need for predictable and achievable regulations. Despite this successful regulatory approach and California’s legislative approach, CPSC today announced that it is aiming to create a federal standard based on the amount of cadmium extracted from children’s items.

CEH notes that a total content standard is more appropriate for a cadmium rule because:

It’s safer for children: testing products using an extraction test at the time of production fails to account for normal wear-and-tear, which can dramatically change the amount of the toxic metal that could be released; total content testing avoids this problem, since the total amount of the toxic metal does not change.

It’s more enforceable: total content testing is more objective and repeatable than extraction testing, which is subject to much more variability and error.

It’s less costly and less cumbersome for industry: producers of children’s products can order and test raw materials for total content before fabricating products, saving them time and resources. In most cases, extraction testing is only valid on finished products, so producers may not know that a product fails testing until after the product is ready for marketing.

CEH also notes that inexpensive screening by x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers for cadmium is widely available and already in use by some toy and children’s products companies. Yet such testing may be useless for meeting an extraction standard.

Earlier this year, CEH findings led to the group’s initiating the nation’s first-ever legal challenge to cadmium in jewelry. The nonprofit has ongoing litigation <http://www.ceh.org/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=440&amp;Itemid=166> for sales of cadmium-tainted jewelry against leading major retailers, including Walmart, Saks, Rainbow and several others. CEH and other groups have also petitioned CPSC and the Environmental Protection Agency, urging them to address the issue of cadmium in children’s products. In an EPA response this August, the agency suggested it would “…work closely with CPSC to determine the most effective means for addressing cadmium in toy metal jewelry and other consumer products, and to determine if action by CPSC should have precedence.”

Toy Safety…again

Last night I was talking about the new toy season – thinking about getting to share another year’s worth of testing.  I know we don’t make any of these toys, but we do take pride in our list of award winners.  It takes a lot of work to get to those select toys that do what they say they’re going to do–AND they’re fun, well made, and going to enhance your child’s play experience.  While there are definite points of the year when I ponder what I do for a living, at the end of the day my mother and I really love finding great products. Our network of family testers take their work seriously and we love the feedback we get from the play trenches!

So you can imagine my dismay this morning. I was barely awake when I saw a reporter on tv with a new set of toys being recalled.  I thought (hoped) that I was still asleep. But no, it was real and even more alarming one of our scheduled award winners was on the list.   All of my happy thoughts about kicking off a new season without the upset of recalls was gone.  Fisher-Price voluntarily recalled 10+ million plus toys and equipment for kids.

The issue this year is not lead or pvc — but small parts.  Now if you’ve read my blog you know this has been an on going worry for us.  In this case the issue is small parts potentially breaking off and posing a choking hazard–but we have been observing small parts that are meant to be there.  Small parts that just stick out of the official choke tube but fall in a toilet roll center (the at-home test recommended by the CPSC).

As always we encourage parents to trust their instincts. If something looks too small or is too loud or is too rough (we had lots of splinter issues this year as well)….take the toy back.  If you have kids that mouth their toys, keep a toilet roll near by.  Put away questionable pieces for the time being.

Backyard Discovery Jungle Gym Gets High Marks

Over the years we’ve testing many outdoor play systems.  They have become so expensive that you really want to be sure you’re making a wise investment.  This season we asked one of our testing families to try a set from Backyard Discovery — a mid-priced brand of wooden sets that is widely available.  They tried the Highlander – it comes with a 10′ wave slide, a rock wall, ladder, two belt swings, a two person glider, a picnic table and a four level fort with a covered porch.

What they loved:

The three levels to climb. (This trend for super high climbers makes us a little nervous. It certainly demands constant adult supervision).

The accessories.  The telescope, the steering wheel– all fun for pretend play!

Stability.  This is super important when kids are swinging high and on the glider.

Rock Wall. The kids really enjoyed this aspect of the set.

Slide. The wave slide is super sleek and slippery–our testers liked that it was super high.

Hardware. Heavy and looks like it will hold up well.

Swings and Glider.  A big hit…how high can you go?

Downside:

Swings and glider are a bit close for our parent testers’ taste.  Our mom suggested that another three inches between the swings would make crashes less likely (yikes).

The rock wall is awkwardly close to one side of the picnic table underneath–making it almost inaccessible for even a small child to get into the bench on that side.

Overall–this family gave the set high marks.  They noted that it took a professional installer 13 hours to put the whole thing together.

Safety First– please note that all backyard equipment needs to have safety material under and around it to help avoid serious injury if your child falls off the equipment.  For a complete list of the CPSC’s playground safety recommendations, click here.  Playground experts recommend that you have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand or pea gravel or safety tested rubber mats.  While this adds to the expense of your backyard playground, remember that 200,000 kids end up in the ER due to playground injuries…so buy the wood chips!

New DUPLO sets: Horse Stables and Preschool Building Set

We just got two new DUPLO sets which are lovely for preschoolers. There is the new Horse Stable that comes with two horses, a stable you build, two vehicles (one is a horse trailer), two play figures.  There’s a lot of opportunities here for pretend play and a great introduction to building. This should be a parent/child toy to begin with as you put the set together and talk about the horses and what they need (hay, walking, taking a ride, etc.)

The other set is a basic building set called LEGO DUPLO Learning that includes big pieces that also have numbers on them.  Again a great chance to talk about numbers, colors  and other concepts right on target for preschoolers.  How high can you stack the pieces, how many can you fit on the vehicle?

Here’s the continuing problem we have with these otherwise great sets.  The age range is marked 2 & up and while all of the pieces fit current federal guidelines for small parts–many of the pieces are very, very close.  And if you use a toilet paper roll as the CPSC suggests consumers use if they do not have a choke tube, many of the pieces go straight through.  We discussed this issue last year and LEGO stands by their age range, see my earlier post and LEGO’s response.

Our point remains…since there is no educational or developmental advantage to  giving toddlers such small pieces–and the downside is so much greater, why take a chance?

So while we would highly recommend these sets for 3 & up, sadly we can not give them an award with the current age labels on the box.  And we will continue to lobby that LEGO either up the age label  to 3 & up or up the size of the pieces so that they are a better choice for 2′s.  Last year we were delighted when  Step 2 up sized their toy hot dogs for much the same reason. We hope LEGO will do the same.

A rose by any other name…

Old Names, But New Games. One of the trends for the fall is familiar names (Monopoly, Scrabble, Twister, etc.) being used with all new game play.

U Build Monopoly

The new U-Build Monopoly (Parker Brothers $19.99) looks like an interesting concept, you build the board – allowing you to control how long your game will take. But the traditional game board is completely gone.

Scrabble Flash Cubes

Scrabble Flash Cubes (Hasbro $29.99), one of the coolest games we saw at Toy Fair, has electronic cubes that you use to build words, again no board, no little tiles…no double or triple word points. If you’re a purist about Twister and love the smell and feel of that mat, you may feel sad about Twister Hoopla (Hasbro $19.99) -where your body becomes the mat. We’ll have to see how these test with kids and their parents.  All Available Fall 2010.

Brand new. We did find some new innovative games. Konexi (ZimZala Games $24.99) brings the fun of Jenga and word play together. Here you stack letters to create words-but watch out you don’t want the letters to come falling down. We loved the design and feel of this game – can’t wait to test with kids.

Konexi by ZimZala Games

We suggested that they could make one of games younger so that the age range of 10 plus could come down considerably.  Available Fall 2010.

An anti-technology theme. Appealing to parents that would like the playroom to be more “real” – we found even more organic and recycled products than last year.  A new approach  – classic toys that now require no batteries – saving money, another bonus.   We all grew up with Spin Art – one of my all time personal favorites!   Innovative for this year, Crayola will roll out  Crayola Color Twister Spin Art (Crayola $14.99) which uses an air pump to make the platform spin.  Watch our video.

Crayola Color Twister Spin Art

We only got to to see the prototype–but look forward to testing the real toy later this season. Available July 2010.

LEGO RACER with Air Pump

The same “air” technology is now being used to propel certain LEGO RACERS ($12.99/ Available now).

Pure Whimsy.

Sing-a-ma-jigs

Sing-a-ma-jigs (Mattel $12.99 each) may turn out to be one of the hottest toys of the season if the real things work as well as the prototypes.  Be sure to watch my video. Each of the dolls will chatter, sing and even harmonize together. To me they look like claymation characters come to life. We look forward to testing these as soon as they are ready.  First collection available May 2010/ more to come for the holidays.

Hexbug Nanos. You either loves these little bugs that come in test tubes…or they’ll  creep you out. I love them. Rolling out right now are habitats that you can put them in.  Our testers enjoyed the portability of these little bugs that go like crazy!  The bugs are each $9.99, the habitat starter set is $19.99. 

Hexbug Nanos in their Habitat

They are to me the tech answer to Zhu Zhu Hamsters. If you’re shopping for that hard to buy for tween, these will be an interesting novelty. Available Now.

May the Force be with you. As a complete Star Wars fan, it makes me so happy that there is a whole new generation falling in love with the saga– thanks to the Clone Wars cartoon.  For my LEGO builders, the Star Wars sets are always the number one request.

LEGO TIE Defender

LEGO has responded with many new models including the TIE Defender ($49.99). This is the Empire’s most advanced fighter, it comes with 304 pieces and includes two action figures. Available Now.

Star Wars Millenium Falcon

We also can’t wait to test, the Star Wars R/C Millennium Falcon (Hasbro $49.99/ Available Fall 2010) – watch our video; the Star Wars AT-AT (Hasbro $99.99/Available August 2010)- a pretty impressive play setting for your own battles against the Empire.

Star Wars AT-AT

It’s more than 2′ tall and 28″  long, comes with LED lights, sounds and phrases from the movie; the Star Wars General Grievous Lightsaber (Hasbro $34.99/Available August 2010) is fun to spin–with double lightsabers that come apart. The lights and sound effects will appeal to Star Wars fans young and old.  Watch our video.

All of these toys will be tested and full reviews will appear on www.toyportfolio.com

Related videos:

Our video of Sing-a-ma-jigs

Our video of General Grevious Lightsaber

Our video of the Crayola Color Twist Spin Art

Our video of the Star Wars Millenium Falcon