Behind the Scenes at the TODAY SHOW

The whole gang during the segment

The whole gang during the segment

I actually love doing segments with lots of kids. I think it adds to the energy of the piece – but I do have to say last night I had this momentary thought “eight babies!, really?!…what were you thinking!”

The kids had a  long wait until it was time to go into the studio–and one thing I’ve learned over the years, never show kids toys long before they go on air – especially when you’re talking about babies and toddlers. To expect them to be engaged with toys for more than 10 minutes in any given setting, just isn’t reasonable in real life, much less in a tv studio with so many people, lights and cameras around. So we had some other related toys for them to play with in their separate “green room”…but at a certain point, they all started moving about the lower concourse — to say this particular group of kids were cute, is an understatement.  The kids were all in what I call that “cupcake” stage where they are just full of pure joy.  (At least at that moment!)

Once we got to the set, I was happy.  The kids and their parents were engaged with all the toys we had selected.  (You can hear them throughout!)  Doing segments with Natalie is also fun because she’s  in the middle of this zone with her two sons…so she gets it.

This is a picture of Matthew (4 months old)…enjoying  hanging out on the Infantino Twist & Fold mat. Picture 10

And here’s a pic with Natalie after the segment is over….To watch the segment, click here.

Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim

Natalie Morales and Stephanie Oppenheim

Handmade Toy Alliance reacts to Testing Exemptions for Mattel

We are waiting to hear back on the status of our safety forms from Mattel. In the meantime, I thought this was worth sharing.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

“The Handmade Toy Alliance reacts to Testing Exemptions for Mattel”

St. Paul, MN – September 1, 2009 – The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) continues to

issue important guidance on several key areas of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

(CPSIA), which was passed by Congress in August 2008 and requires all children’s products to be

tested for safety by third party laboratories. Except, it turns out, for toys made by Mattel, the world’s

largest toymaker, who has recalled 12.7 million toys for safety hazards or lead paint since 2007.

The CPSC granted Mattel permission to operate “firewalled” in-house testing facilities instead of

paying third party laboratories for performing required toy safety testing. Although such in-house

testing facilities are allowed under the CPSIA (due to Mattel’s heavy lobbying in 2008), only very

large manufacturers can meet the requirements set forth in the law.  Smaller manufacturers, including

the members of the Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA), must pay third party labs for testing services

ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars per item.

“We are concerned that this is just another example of the fox guarding the hen house,” wrote

Consumer Reports.  Members of the Handmade Toy Alliance couldn’t agree more.  “Mattel is one of

just a few companies that caused all the panic over toy recalls back in 2007,” said Dan Marshall, Vice

President of the HTA and co-owner of Peapods Natural Toys (MN). “While the provisions of the

CPSIA are causing hardship for hundreds of smaller companies with impeccable safety records, Mattel

has been allowed to bring their testing back in house with only a promise that they will not have

continued lapses in product safety.”

“This really makes me crazy,” said Jill Chuckas, Secretary of the HTA and owner of Crafty Baby

(CT). “This law is nearly impossible for small businesses like mine, but Mattel gets let off the hook.

How is that fair?” Mattel’s stock has risen 33% in the first six months since major provisions of the

CPSIA came into effect on February 10, 2009.

The Handmade Toy Alliance again calls to Congress to amend the CPSIA to make it fairer for small

businesses by allowing the CPSC to apply risk analysis to mediate the costs of compliance without

sacrificing safety.  Small businesses should not be punished for Mattel’s mistakes.

Although the CPSC has recently defined a list of materials that are not expected to be contaminated by

lead, many materials still require testing.  “It’s fine to exempt wood, fabric, and paper from testing,”

said Cecilia Leibovitz, President of the HTA and owner of Craftsbury Kids (VT).  “But as soon as you

attach a nail, zipper, button, hinge, or a coat of paint, we’re back to having to pay for testing. Most of

our members are still very much struggling with this law.”

The Handmade Toy Alliance is a grassroots alliance of 382 retail stores, toymakers and children’s

product manufacturers from across the country who want to preserve consumer access to unique

handmade toys, clothes and all manner of small batch children’s goods in the USA.  Formed in

November of 2008 in response to the CPSIA, HTA members are parents, grandparents and consumers

who are passionate about their businesses as well as the safety of the children in their lives.  While in

support of the spirit of the law, the unintended consequences of the CPSIA have motivated members of

the HTA to work to enact change at a federal level.  More information at www.handmadetoyalliance.org.

Pick of the Day: Prime Time's Max Liquidator

The Max Liquidator from Prime Time Toys is great fun for the pool. Unlike many other water shooting type toys, the spray in this one is not as harsh–making it a safer choice.  It also looks more like a water toy -rather than a plastic assault gun. I personally love the kickboard that has the mechanism built in…allowing you to surprise your kids when they think you’re just just floating around.

Sometimes rules are really hard…

Ok, so one of our rules about bath toys for kids is no squirters.  Yes, yes…squirters are really fun. But here’s the thing–if you don’t get all of the water out of them…and your child has taken a bath, it can pose a a problem.  (Maybe it’s a little OCD of us–but would you take a bath and then save some of the water, only to squirt it potentially in your mouth the next night?)   I guess if you really washed them out-and made sure they’re really, really empty and completely dry…

As a result, we’ve passed on lots of fun bath toys…ALEX entices us every year with new sets of squirters…and one of Corolle’s lines of dolls also come with these squirters.  We pass on them too. There is no government regulation–just our concern that used bathwater needs to go completely bye bye.

Which is why it completely pains us to pass on the new Gotz Maxy Aquini 16″ Bath Baby Doll. We love her sundress (really, I would wear it to the beach)…and her purple crocs are wonderfully hip.  Because we can’t crawl in the box and implore you throw out the froggy squirter (he’s pretty cute too)..we can’t give this doll an award–otherwise she’d be a clear winner. Really–look at her feet!

crocfeet

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

Time for Bubbles…

Spring time always meant new bubbles in my house. I’m a big fan of the Little Kids No-Spill lineprobably because I can still remember crying over those plastic bottles of pink or blue bubbles–remember those?  You had to put your finger in the bottle to pull out your wand?  This Bubble Blitzer with a Dora the Explorer theme makes lots of little bubbles when you blow…Our testers had no problems making this one work.  The Bubble Blitzer Glitter Critters are very cute looking but required more air than our testers could muster.  If you’re worried about your child running with the Bubble Blitzer in their mouth (not a good idea)…stick with the original.

An interview with Jim Becker of Becker&Mayer! (SmartLab)

little-jim As you know the time frame for the new safety regulations under the CPSIA have been extended by a year. We asked Jim Becker, the co-partner of becker & mayer! some questions about the regs and the new direction of their science/activity kits under the SmartLab brand.

How has the last year of changing safety regulations affected your business?

Because we’ve been selling a lot of products to major retailers over the last few years, we’ve been in the thick of safety regulations for a while now. So we are ahead of the curve, so to speak. I would guess the effects on us are probably less than for other companies.

There are certain kits that we just won’t be able to sell anymore. For others, it’s an added extra expense. And for new products, we really have to design around the safety regulations.

Do you think the extra year before the enforcement of the new CPSIA was necessary?

Yes, because manufacturers need time to redesign their products to meet the regulations.

What was the goal of new redesign [rebrand] of your kits?
While we love the SmartLab dog, as do all of our loyal customers, we decided to rebrand in a way that showcases the components. Our goal was to retain the fun of the dog but focus on the excitement of the product.

What is your favorite kit in the new line?
You-Build-It RoboXplorer…We really created something entirely new that allows kids to build a robotic mechanism that is not only fun to play with, but also teaches kids the fundamentals of robotics. One of the greatest features is kids get to experiment and change things learning through trial and error—the best way to learn!

(SEO: we haven’t tested this one yet.)

What was your favorite toy as a kid?
Legos…I loved to endlessly build things. As a teenager, I graduated to building simple electronics, so my other favorite “toy” was a soldering iron. And, I still have it!