If you’re looking for a game that will be fun to play with your older baby (8 months) and younger toddler…bring home the new Stack’ n Surprise Count ‘n Build Snail Pail. It’s just right for fill and spill games. In the beginning you’ll be doing most of the stacking…but filling is a great deal of fun for sitting up babies. The pieces are just the right size…and the clear container makes is fun to see where they go! For a full review, visit www.toyportfolio.com. This set won an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award.
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.
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:
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.
Golf anyone? Little Tikes Drive, Chip & Putt Golf Trainer is the latest in the golf toys for the preschool set. One of our testers with two kids (2 and 4) reported that both kids enjoyed the toy–obviously the 4 year old had better control of the clubs. She said that both had fun hitting the ball on the arm–and that the toy was sturdy enough to take all the swinging! I love that she also used the box as another golf opportunity–by cutting a small hole in the box, the boys then took turns trying to hit the ball in. Of course anytime you have clubs in the mix, adult supervision is a must if there is more than one child at play.
So we’re delighted to announce that we reached a safety standard for this holiday season with a large number of toy companies (both large and small). We’ve been working on this issue since the end of last year’s holiday season.
As you may recall our Platinum Award winners last year were tested with two independent labs. The final list included products that were determined to be lead free. We thought we could continue this policy but soon discovered that there can be trace amounts of lead. As a result, toy companies would not sign our safety verification form. We then moved to the American Academy of Pediatrics definition of trace amounts at 40 ppm. Several companies signed off at this level but not the majority. We spoke to many quality assurance managers — they all said basically the same thing–that there could be contamination in the toy making process that could easily bring a toy above the 40 ppm. At this point, we felt as if we were back where we started. Do we not review products? How would that work when it excluded many of the major toy companies.
After several weeks–we got a consensus. We now require companies to verify the following:
products do not exceed 100ppm for surface coated lead
products do not exceed 200ppm for substrate lead
product meets California’s law on phthalates
This is really a stop gap measure until the federal legislation kicks in (assuming the President signs the bill). We can not independently verify by testing the products we receive- but we have gotten companies to sign our form!
The federal legislation is chockful of good things from our point of view: mandatory third party testing, standards for testing; fines for non-compliance and more resources and oversight for the CPSC. What you may not know is that the lead levels for the bill are phased in–600ppm within 180 days of enactment; 300ppm within one year of enactment and 100ppm in three years.
So we were really pleased that we got so many companies to agree to the lower levels for this holiday season. As much as we’d love to claim victory–the pressure comes from a greater source in the free market system…the retailers responding to the demands of their consumers.
So now we can get back to looking at toys in terms of their play value.
As I write this, the cartons of new products are arriving-there are the new potty doll contenders, new wooden trains, new baby toys… It feels like the North Pole – fun, but not to worry, we’re working very hard!
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?
I’m happy to report that we are getting lots of safety verification forms from lots of companies! Both big and small are complying with our request. The toys are now really beginning to pour in to our offices!
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.