Pick of the Day: Instead of Going to Starbucks!

Step 2 Cafe Barista

Step 2 Cafe Barista

Step 2′s new Cafe Barista is a fun pretend prop that very much reflects our coffee-addicted life style.  For so many older toddlers and preschoolers that accompany their parents to Starbucks for their Lattes and Mistos…the loud machines that create these drinks are a part of their lives.   The Cafe Barista comes with two large cups and a smaller cup (for the froth of course!).  The machine does make a good deal of noise…true to the real thing.  Watch our video.   Read our full review, www.toyportfolio.com. Our only complaint…the cups have holes in them — so this is strictly a pretend drinking toy. For some folks this is preferred…but for most toddlers…the filling and spilling of water in a real cup is a great deal of fun.  The holes are there for safety purposes–we applaud the concern but hope the team at Step2 can fashion a solution that addresses both function and safety.

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

Pick of the Day: Tonka Wheel Pals Round-About Railway

099941418512_main200One of the hardest categories to fill each year are small vehicles that are safe for the 3 and under crowd.  Many parents just hope for the best and give their kids small Hot Wheels, Matchbox and wooden trains–the problem with them of course is that they do have small parts that are potentially dangerous.  Playskool’s new Wheel Pals line is meant to answer that issue.  The cars are  small in scale – with everything safely anchored.  Our testers loved the new Round About Railway. If you’re looking for a setting that your toddler will enjoy (and not sit on)…look no further.  You put the train at the top of the setting and then your child can either hit the plunger (which activates the train sound)…or just push the train down the track. The vehicle moves slowly enough so that your toddler can track the vehicle, a plus. We thought the Railway works much better than the Fold ‘n Go Garage (we found that some of the ramps did not lock in sufficiently well).

Pick of the Day: My Natural Collection from Hosung NY

tinylove-collectionWe LOVE this new collection of huggables from Hosung NY. They are just right (and safe) for toddlers – velour bodies with stitched features- and are really very sweet looking.  There are three different collections – all produced a round of oohs and ahhs as we went through the box.  There is the Long Leg Collection (sans clothes) – they retail for $14.99.  The ones in the photo are the Tiny Love Collection and are a very reasonable $9.99. The Tiny Tots Collections are smaller animals (fistfuls really) that have a sense of humor and joy about them.  Best yet, the entire line is made from 100% non-toxic cotton.  The coloring is from minerals and soy done with the company calls a “low eco-impact” dye process.  Unlike many “natural” collections we’ve seen, they are very vivid and don’t have that “ok, it doesn’t look great, but it’s very green and pc”.   Each are something you’d be happy sharing with the toddlers in your life….hooray!  We’re giving the entire collection an Oppenheim Toy Porfolio Gold Seal Award and they are certainly in the running for Platinum at the end of the year!

Lead: How much of an issue?

We are still working with toy companies to get everyone on the same page in terms of lead content as part of our review process–in fact I believe we are making really great progress which we will share as we get closer to the fall.  My question, its been almost a year since the whole issue exploded–is it something you’re still thinking about when you go to the toy store?   Are there other safety concerns that you feel need to be addressed?

Trends From Toyland: Step 2's Gender Free Kitchens & Retro Diner

Step 2 is continuing their wonderful line of gender free kitchens.  To their credit these kitchens also have some sound effects–but not overly intrusive bossy instructions (an unfortunate trend in this category).  For the holidays, Step 2 will also have a new Retro Diner, complete with a cooking side and a two person “booth” side.  Both boys and girls will love this pretend setting.  The retro diner styling (complete with licks of red–our favorite) looks fresh and fun.  On the upside, the company is also phthalates free. The company is also working to address the issue with the Infantino toy line– a company they recently purchased.We were also delighted to report that the company took our concern over their small plastic hot dogs and french fries to heart. The hot dog is now in a bun (much larger) and the french fries are being combined so that they are also larger.  All good!    

Kudos to Toys R Us and Wal-Mart

We were delighted with today’s news that both TRU and Wal-Mart have raised the bar on safety standards for toys.  Not waiting for Congress to act, these two super retailers are moving the industry along in producing safer products.Both retailers are joining California in banning phthalates (a softener added to plastics that has been linked to serious health risks) and reducing the levels of surface coated lead way below the current federal standard of 600 ppm (parts per million) to 90 ppm.  What’s left?  We will continue to call for the same reduction in embedded lead.  Only the state of Illinois regulates the levels of embedded lead (requiring toys sold in the state to have levels below 600 ppm).  The CPSC reports that a child died from lead poisoning after ingesting a charm that had excessive levels of embedded lead.  This is a real risk that also needs to be addressed in all products for children.We need the government to follow the market–set the standards and require mandatory testing. 

LEGO joins companies complying with new safety requirements

images1.jpgWe’re delighted to announce that LEGO has sent in safety verification forms for the products that had been awarded Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Awards for 2008. They include:

Hogwarts Castle, Ultimate Lego Duplo Building Set, A World of LEGO Mosaics, Monster Dino, Tiny Turbos, Tiger Shark Attack, Aquabase Invasion, King’s Castle Siege and Fire Station.

The form asks that companies verify that their products are lead free (surface coated and embedded) and phthalates free.

So far the companies complying with our new Safety Requirements are a very exclusive club of three:

Edushape, Publication International and Lego.

For more information about our new protocol please visit our website, www.toyportfolio.com.

Hot Toys- not this year

Perhaps one of the upsides to our collective focus on toy safety this year–the absence of a hot toy. With the news cycles focusing on the latest recalls, there really hasn’t been room for soft and fuzzier stories about the hot toy. As much as Elmo tried, he couldn’t giggle his way to center stage this season.

While we often have some hot toys on our list, most know that featuring the heavily promoted toy of the season isn’t our function. The reality is that a hot toy is not necessarily a great toy and certainly not a toy for everyone. A few years ago when Furby took off (in large part to a pre-market article in Wired Magazine) we were struck by the number of people trying to hunt Furby down for their kids–even though Furby’s gremlin like character would be frightening to most younger kids. Even though no child had played with the Furby when the article put the creature on the map. Quickly we learned that “hot” often has more to do with adult collectors on Ebay than a truly kid-driven craze. It can happen (Beanie babies, Cabbage Patch, the original Tickle Me Elmo!)– but they are few and far between (as most toy makers will tell you).

Now we’re left to wonder as we look around our homes—not whether we have the hot toy–but whether we have safe toys.

Today Show/ toyportfolio.com Platinum Award Toy Segment

Right before we went on air, our 4 minute segment became 3.5 minutes–that’s right–to talk about over 15 great Platinum Award winning products! We also had kids on the plaza (bundled up) that were really into playing with the Castle of Courage from Step 2, the Arena from Playmobil, and the Candy Land Castle Game from Hasbro. Al Roker is always fun to do segments with – and I usually like doing segments outdoors because the crowds are there – giving that extra energy that you don’t get if you’re in the studio. The downside? The wind today was kicking up. So right before we were about to go on live, I turned sideways and all of my hair got caught in my lip gloss. Not the best look. But more important than my hair was that the Havoc Heli RC helicopters from Spinmaster couldn’t fly – too much wind for these really cool tiny helicopters that are meant for indoor use or a very calm day. Thankfully the big K’nex Double Ferris wheel did not fall over! It looked iffy there for a moment too. Of course I could really talk about any one of these products for 3.5 minutes–so it’s always hard to decide what the sound bite will be for each–and I didn’t want to skip any–so it was full steam ahead. If you want more info about these award winning products, you’ll find a lot more on our website at www.toyportfolio.com and we also have posted a calmer discussion of some of our award winners on www.youtube.com. The best sign of a successful segment, the kids didn’t want to stop playing with the toys after the segment was over!