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

Great new RCs for Preschoolers: Kid Galaxy Strikes Again

Parents surf and watch TV eight times more than they read to kids

While we’re all on facebook and twittering…not to mention shopping on line and watching tv…it turns out that we’re not reading to our kids.

Leapfrog recently sent me the findings of a study they commissioned that indicated:

“While the majority of parents (83 percent) do read to their child daily, those who do spend an average of about 32 minutes reading, compared with a total of 209 minutes (approximately 3∏ hours) a day watching TV and browsing the Web.”

Does this surprise anyone?  At first this looked really upsetting but if you’re really reading books with your child for 32 minutes a day (if that’s for real)…it’s a good start. It doesn’t mean that the rest of the day our kids should be plugged into the tv/computer.  The problem I always had with my boys is that bedtime reading always became about one more book–and then you feel conflicted– after all you’re thrilled they want to read more…but at some point you realize it’s not about the book, but about not going to SLEEP!!!

LeapFrog is running a promotion in honor of National Reading Month…to inspire kids and parents to read one million hours. If you sign up, you’re in the running to win a TAG Reading System (We gave this electronic reading system our Platinum Award last year.)

For more details on the study, visit

Pick of the Day: Connectagons

725215h A wonderfully pleasing construction set you’ll want to put them on your coffee table (and play with the set yourself). The set comes in a wooden box and includes 240 wooden discs (1-3/4″ in diameter) that each have eight notches on them–making them a really fun open-ended construction set to use. The circles come in a variety of colors–they’re just fun to hold and build with. They came late, but we’re adding Connectagons to our Platinum Award winners for 2009. At $24.98, it’s also a good value. Offered exclusively by HearthSong.

Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Awards: October 6th

Thank you all for your wonderful emails and calls–everyone is looking for our book and lists. Hearing that our lists are well appreciated and used is always great to hear.

The Oppenheim Toy Portfolio  Platinum Award List will all be announced on our website on October 6th. We’re busy here checking our lists as we get ready to post our top choices for the holidays.

As you know we worked with toy companies for most of the year to get a verification form that (almost) everyone would sign.  We didn’t get an agreement until we were well past the point of publication. The upside of writing reviews on the web is that there is no word limit–so we can include more feedback that we got from toy testers and just generally say more…

We are also planning features for the holiday season..if there’s something you’d particularly like us to take a look at, let us know.  We’ll be looking at trends as well as toys at every price point.  With the news as it is-we think these lists will be useful as you start shopping for the holidays.