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?
It’s really unfortunate that wooden trains have taken such a hit this past year. Wooden trains are one of our favorite play experiences for preschoolers. Putting down tracks is really an open-ended puzzle (hence our recommendation to stay clear of play tables that recommend gluing down tracks). If you’ve ever watched a preschooler work at the process of putting the tracks down, you can almost sense the brain power involved. I’ve also discovered that somewhere around four, most kids are far better at figuring out the tracks than their parents!
Since Brio was acquired by K’nex, the train line has taken a back seat to their core business. Sure there were a couple of new add-ons shown at toy fair, but I miss the “lines” of trains that had interesting themes. Having covered wooden train sets for over seventeen years (how many people can say that?), it’s sad to see how the line has diminished. The lead issue also rocked the world of parents who believed that they were bringing home heirlooms to their kids when they bought pricey bridges and sets from Learning Curve’s Thomas the Tank Engine line. The bridges, stations, and other accessories are always great from this line. It will be interesting to see if they can regain the trust of parents.
So you can imagine that we were pretty happy to see Plan Toys new Road and Rail set. The handsomely designed station also converts into the storage box for the whole set (pretty neat). We look forward to testing this set. Plan Toys had a number of sleekly designed wooden play settings (garage, airport, etc.) that have that level of design you won’t mind having out in your home. The company also reports that they are phthalates and lead free. We look forward to testing these sets when they’re ready.
On the upside, there is a great deal of testing going on across the industry. In part, retailers have increased the pressure on suppliers to verify that their products meet federal regulations. More testing has meant continued fall out. Since the beginning of the new year, ten more products have been recalled due to excessive lead content. While toy industry folks are quick to point out that there are thousands of products on the market, it’s not such a big number–it is important to remember that under current guidelines, companies are not required to recall toys with excessive levels of embedded lead. The federal guidelines only address surface coated paint that has excessive lead content.
So what has changed? More testing, yes. And while there is legislation pending in Congress, nothing has been passed. The leading toy industry association has indicated that it will release its own recommendations for testing standards but has not done so yet. Perhaps it will be part of their toy fair media work.
The answer, therefore, is that there is a lot of forward motion, but no touchdown (I oddly miss football this week). The industry remains on its own, the CPSC has not been given additional resources or legislated bite to its enforcement abilities, and the media has lost interest to a large extent.
What’s a parent to do? Stay on top of the recalls (you can register for email alerts at http://www.cpsc.gov.)
We are getting lots of calls and emails from folks looking for our 2008 book. As we let people know on our website a few weeks ago, we have decided not to publish our book this year because of the lead safety issues. I have a feeling that a lot of the people calling in may not visit the website–so this may not be the best way to get the word out either. We’re hoping that the list on the website of Lead-Free* Platinum Award winning toys will be helpful this holiday season. In the meantime, please check out our Read It! Play It! series that focuses on fostering a love a reading with a great reading list for each age group and related (fun) activities that extend the book experience. The Read It! Play It! with Babies and Toddlers is now available in Spanish.
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.
The number one question business reporters are asking me this week–will people shop differently this holiday season? I don’t think it’s reasonable to imagine that we’re going to stop buying toys for our kids–but what will people buy? More European toys? More books and videos? On the one hand, fewer toy purchases would send a clear signal to toy retailers and toy makers that we’re serious about toy safety. But do you really want to be the parent that says to your child “we’re making a political statement darling”?
One of the best steps you can take this holiday season is to sign up for recall email alerts which you can do at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx. This is the fastest way to get the information you need to determine if you have a recalled product and how to return the product for a refund. Unfortunately the companies all seem to have different policies for getting your money back or obtaining a replacement product.