Toys for Future Shipping Magnates or Fedex Executives

IMG_0026Not sure we really talked about Playmobil’s Cargo setting sufficiently. The plane is super big and the cargo ship is amazing, but it’s the actual shipping containers and crane that deliver the complete  experience. The sets are not inexpensive, but they really do combine to make a wonderful pretend setting.    For more details on the specific sets, visit

5 Toy Safety Facts You Need to Know

As attention turns to the toy aisles this time of year,  there is an understandable concern for toy safety – especially when news reports focus on dangerous and toxic toy lists.  So the question remains, are toys safe?

1. Toys are Safer than they were prior to 2008. In reaction to the discovery of lead in a frighteningly large number of toys, the federal government passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. All phase-in aspects of the law have been enacted. Toys are now regulated for lead, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, mercury and other toxic metals. It also sets limits on a number of phthalates – they make toys softer, but have also been linked to serious health issues including reproductive defects.

2. Toys are not checked before they hit the shelves in toy stores. Nothing in the new law provides for government inspection prior to a toy being introduced into the market. The toy industry remains self-regulatory. While most toy makers and retailers take toy testing seriously,  it means that dangerous and toxic toys can still end up in your playroom.

3. If it smells like a duck, it’s probably a duck. The same is true with toys. If you open a toy and it smells bad, or it’s really loud, or it has small parts trust your instincts. Don’t assume it must be okay. You are your child’s personal consumer advocate.

4. A Toilet Paper Roll is Your First Line of Defense. Most families don’t have a “choke tube” that checks for small parts under the current regulations.  You can use a toilet paper tube – it’s slightly larger, but it’s a good benchmark for toys that should not be given to kids under 3 or kids that still mouth their toys. One of the trends that we are most concerned with (and is also noted in the Ohio PIRG Report) are small toy parts that just stick out of the choke tube so they’re legal but oh so close. [There is no developmental advantage to such small parts for young children and, in our opinion, pose an unnecessary chance for kids to either choke or gag.]

5. Leave the Noisy Toys at Grandma’s. Well this is one solution. Take the batteries out is another. Many toys come with volume controls, that’s a plus. Yet there remain toys each year that are just too loud and exceed the legal limit. Really alarming is that many of them are intended for very young children to put near their ears. How can you check? The good news, is that there are free APPs to measure sound levels. Here’s what you should look for. (This would actually make for a fun science experiment for older children). Toys that are intended to be hand-held as well as crib toys, table toys and floor toys should not produce continuous sounds that are greater than 85 dB from 25 centimeters (or appr. 10 inches away). Toys, like toy phones, intended to be placed near your child’s ear –  should not be more than 65 dB from 2.5 centimeters (appr. 1 inch).  If you’re wondering about toys that have blasts of sound the law sets the limit to 125 dB from 25 centimeters.

One more…and it’s a big one. Balloons, balloons, balloons…yes, they’re fun…but latex balloons pose a serious danger for children under the age of 8. Yes, we all grew up with them, but did you know that according to the CPSC, 47% of child fatalities from toys in 2010 were from balloons and small balls?  The problem is that a big happy balloon one moment can pop and the pieces can seal your child’s airway closed.

We recommend taking a look at the full Trouble in Toyland report from Ohio PIRG. We have not independently tested the toys in their report, but they underscore that there is more to be done to assure that toys are safer.


Let’s Play…who’s older?

Some toys feel like they’ve been around for ever.  Test your knowledge of these classics. (The answers at the very bottom.)


Harrison Ford or Mr. Potato Head?






Cabbage Patch Kids or Britney Spears?





President Obama or Operation?





Miley Cyrus or Furby?






Answers: Harrison Ford  (b. 1942) is older than Mr. Potato Head (1952 -1st US distribution); Britney Spears (b. 1981) beats Cabbage Patch Kids out by a year (1982); President Obama (1961)  beats out Operation (1965) and Miley Cyrus (1992)  is six years older than the original  Furby (1998). Trends in Toyland for 2013

2013 has been a much better year in toyland.  We’re finally emerging from the effects of the economic downturn of the last several years when the industry played it safe in terms of what they were willing to bring to market. Many of our favorite toys were downsized to get to a magic price point (which keeps rising by the way). And, If there was a toy that was doing well before the recession, chances are there would be countless iterations of the same toy or concept. As a reviewer, this was more than depressing.

This year we were greeted by a new generation of toy inventors.  This new band of smart (many from MIT and Stanford) merry toy makers are seeking to change the industry and how we engage kids in play. This makes us extremely happy.   Not everything will work or be a big hit, but it shows a renewed interest and brain trust that can only benefit our kids in the long run. We’re also delighted with the explosion of new construction toys – everything from robotics, marble mazes (both wood and plastic), sets geared to engaging girls, to toys that you build and then demolish. Games and crafts continue to be a strong category and remains a great way to get everyone to disconnect from their technology for 30 minutes.

Tomorrow I’ll be on the Today Show to share just a few of our award winners. Trust me it’s so hard to talk only about 8 products when we have so many favorites!

As always, we thank our network of family testers all over the country. Without their feedback our list wouldn’t be the same. We love hearing from kids and their folks about what works and equally important- what doesn’t deliver.

As we now enter holiday toy season, we’ll be posting lots of videos and features about products we think you should know about.

So be sure to visit our website for daily features.




You scream, I scream…we all scream for ICE CREAM

Calico Critters Ice Cream TruckThis new Ice Cream Truck from Calico Critters (International Playthings) is off the meter on cuteness and feels right for today where it’s soooo hot in a good part of the country.


Still cuter…

The ice cream dispenser works…icecreamtrucktwo

For a full review and shopping info, visit our site.






In honor of Esther Williams…Barbie Splashes and Spins

Esther Williams passed away this month–but leaves us a wonderful legacy on film. I used to love watching her movies. If you’ve never seen one, take a look – they’re great fun. As a former All-American competitive swimmer and darling of MGM’s movies in the 40s, she made a bathing suit and swim cap look beautiful. imagesAs a kid, I always wondered how she could hold her breath for so long and always come up smiling with a full face of make-up.  Now I appreciate her strength, ability, and her healthy appearance. When Barbie Splash ‘n Spin from Mattel came in–it was hard not to think that this latest version of the iconic doll was inspired by Esther Williams down to the the kitschy spinning dolphins that circle Barbie’s waist.  For shopping details on the Barbie visit,  Visit our youtube channel to watch the demo. 61iLh6m63+L._SL1357_

A fun Summer Craft

I’m always on the look out for craft kits that are good for a rainy day like today (where isn’t it raining?)

The new Paper Bead Jewelry Set from Creativity for Kids is a very satisfying kit with lots of pretty paper to work with. Plenty for a play date or siblings to share.  Read our full review at www.toyportfolio.comIMG_0184 IMG_0185.