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February 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 2
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Simple Toys Teach Best

Imagination Prepares Babies and Toddlers for School and Beyond


“When you’re a baby, everything is an education.” Maggie Wattenmaker, The Village Toymaker
With additional reporting by regional correspondents Dennis Furlan, Elizabeth Greenspan and Brenda Ruggiero

Two-thirds of the retailers TDmonthly surveyed indicated that educational purchases begin with ages 4 and younger. “Birth to 5,” is when parents buy these toys because they’re “most concerned about [teaching] their kids before they go to school,” Char Mcaulay, manager of Toy Town in Casper, Wyo., told TDmonthly.

Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, child psychologist and co-author of “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards,” believes parents buy educational toys out of fear. “I’ve never met a parent who doesn’t want the best for his or her child. We’ve been convinced by marketing ploys that if we buy educational toys…our children will be in a better place entering school.”

But “educational,” for older as well as younger children, can mean many things.

What’s Selling

At Frankenmuth Toy Co. in Frankenmuth, Mich., educational means Playmobil (ToyShow). It sells because “it allows children to use their imagination,” owner Judy Bergelin said.

Dr. Hirsh-Pasek commented that the best educational toys for young children are “90 percent child and 10 percent toy,” and foster imagination. Old-fashioned toys — blocks, crayons, clay and balls — really matter, she added, and puzzles are extremely educational. For example, a 2005 to 2006 study funded by MEGA Brands and led by Dr. Dimitri Christakis at the University of Washington, conducted with children ages 1 ½ to 2 ½, revealed that block play contributes to improved language development. [1]

Maggie Wattenmaker, manager of The Village Toymaker in Memphis mentioned Brio and Small World Toys blocks, and touted engaging products from HABA (ToyShow) and Manhattan Toy (ToyDirectory). “When you’re a baby,” she said, “everything is an education.”

Three of 18 retailers mentioned wooden puzzles by Melissa & Doug as best-selling educational toys. “They put a lot of quality into them,” said Joel Hardy, co-owner of Magpie Toys in Red Lodge, Mont.

What to Make of It


Though parents are prone to purchase educational toys for children of all ages, it’s key to remember the importance placed on early development. Because when it comes to infants and toddlers, everything really is an education.

Here are the products retailers said are teaching little ones (and older kids):




Category: Wooden Toys



Wood Creations Farm is made of classic natural wood with the proven versatility of the Maxi Blok building system. Farm set includes basic building elements, detailed themed parts and adorable animals. 
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10567      (added 12/8/2006)
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MSRP: $29.99
Category: Pretend Play



A new cannon, more pirates, more gadgets and a hoist to swing through the air! The new Skull Pirate Ship is a pirate's dream come true. It's filled with secret compartments for booty and all the accessories needed for a swashbuckling adventure at sea. Available at Target, Toys “R” Us and specialty for an estimated retail price of $29.99.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8935      (added 8/8/2006)
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Wholesale Price: (Log in to view)
MSRP: $10.99
Age Range: 2 and up
SKU or Item #: 666273036278
Launch Date: January 2003
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puzzles & Skill



This 10-piece wooden puzzle has pegs and finishes out to 11 ½” by 8 ¼”. Ravensburger “quality standards are much higher than any of the competition and it shows in the final product. The puzzle contributes to a child’s educational development by helping them learn to count while having fun playing with Thomas,” Phil Aberbach, vice president of sales at Ravensburger, told TDmonthly. Launch date: January 2003.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10414      (added 12/5/2006)
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MSRP: $32.95
Age Range: 3 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Play Sets



Kids enjoy playing school and this pop-up classroom set will give them hours of fun. It includes everything needed for the ultimate pretend classroom: gradebooks, stickers, hall passes, clock, bell, dry erase board, handpointer, crayons, double-sided calendar, double-sided map and much more. Items come in a convenient tri-fold board for easy set up and storage.
— The product “is an example of an open-ended toy that enables kids to use their imaginations. They can make their play whatever they want it to be….Some parents and caregivers use the Pretend & Play School Set to prepare their preschoolers for school,” Kim McLynn of Learning Resources told TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7861      (added 5/12/2006)
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MSRP: $55.00
Age Range: 2 and up
SKU or Item #: 1953
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Wooden Toys
Preschool



The charming shapes, patterns and motifs will guide children into Fantasy Land. Mouse, bear, lion and the other blocks can be arranged into a jigsaw picture or piled like constructing blocks. With a kaleidoscope block, mirror and little bell, these constructing blocks of beech wood have a foil coating. It is ideal for ages 18 months and up. “This creative block set offers the unique feature that it is a 3-D puzzle also — it may be constructed vertically or horizontally on a table. The multi-faceted colors, textures and optical effects create a one-of-a-kind set for specialty stores,” Lea Culliton of HABA USA told TDmonthly. It was named one of the 100 Best Children’s Products of 2006 by Dr. Toy.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7934      (added 5/22/2006)
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Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Construction



These solid rubberwood blocks are cut into a variety of fun, architectural shapes, and finished to prevent splinters and slightly rounded at the corners to keep play safe. Each of the precisely engineered blocks — rectangles, columns, pillars, arches, triangles and more — is exactly related in size to the basic unit blocks, which helps develop problem-solving and perception skills while nurturing creativity.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10626      (added 12/11/2006)
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MSRP: $39.99
Age Range: 2 and up
Launch Date: January 2006
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Infant & Toddler



This classic fill-and-pour toy has a fun, contemporary twist. Whenever toddlers place a bug in or out of the frog’s mouth, they hear sounds such as “ribbit,” “burp” and “buzz.” A door in the frog's belly opens for easy emptying, and moving the bug-shaped pieces helps develop motor skills. The product comes with three soft winged insects and a battery. Launch date: January 2006.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10148      (added 11/17/2006)
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MSRP: $16.95
Age Range: 3 to 6
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: General Games



MightyMind is a creative play-alone activity for children ages 3 to 6. MightyMind was an original winner of the Parent's Choice Toy of the Year award. It has been three times nominated by Parenting Magazine to the Toy Hall of Fame. It sells in 22 countries from Europe to Asia. MightyMind and its sequel, SuperMind, keep kids busy and happy for more than half an hour. No reading or language is required, and it teaches kids everything they need to know to solve and build complex jigsaw puzzles. MightyMind  "Makes Kids Smarter."
— Mighty Mind is a favorite in Amy Barrett's store, Lasso the Moon Wonderful Toys in Helena, Mont. “ Some educational packaging is unappealing and doesn't let you know what it can do for your child. … This really lets you know what's going on.”
— “They can take them in the car and the pieces stick inside the tin box,” Terri Watkins, an employee at Interactive Toys Crafts and More in Cle Elum, Wash., told TDmonthly about the magnetic version of Mighty Mind, an evergreen seller.
— Dalene Lockhart, owner Toy Town in Casper, Wyo., said in July 2008 that “customers like it because it's expandable and goes from ages 3-8, and keeps kids busy for a long time.”
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 5697      (added 11/28/2005)
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MSRP: $29.95
Age Range: 3 to 6
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Interactive



With this colorful, programmable telephone, children can learn how to call home, 911 Emergency Service, and other important telephone numbers. Parents can program in any number and record a message that kids hear when they dial that number.
— Manager Jessica Thompson, at the Baton Rouge location of Learning Express, said, “usually people buying for 3 to 4 year olds come in looking for it. The 4, 5, and 6 year olds play with it when it’s on display.”
— This is a hit at Capitol Kids in Madison, Wis., according to owner Peg Scholtes, who said, “It sells continuously. Usually I don’t like talking toys, but these I like.”
— This item is also a good seller at Doodlehopper 4 Kids in Springfield, Va., said manager Gwen Bowden.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 4381      (added 8/31/2005)
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MSRP: $43.99
Age Range: 5 to 8
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Educational
General Toys
Electronic Games



The multi-button, electronic cash register features a functional coin reader that correctly identifies real and included plastic play coins and a checkout scanner equipped with sound. The game will teach kids coin identification, addition, subtraction and place-value.
— Peg Scholtes, owner of Capitol Kids in Madison, Wis., said this product sells consistently well in her store.
— “I would have sold more of [them] had I not run out, but I thought I had ordered [more] and forgot,” Co-owner Mary Sisson of Kazoodles in Vancouver, Wash., told TDmonthly in early 2008.
— This is a best-seller on imaginetoys.com.
— Two of 43 retailers named a product by Learning Resources, including this cash register, when discussing best-selling playsets in April 2010.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 4384      (added 8/31/2005)
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MSRP: $20.00
SKU or Item #: 7-35282-03101-4
Launch Date: January 2000
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Infant & Toddler
Musical Toys



With this award-winning product, children can add or subtract instruments with the touch of a button, and lights flash along with the music. With harp, flute, French horn, piano and violin instrument buttons, one orchestra button, and soft, rounded corners, it provides hours of interactive play. The product "gives children the opportunity to learn specific musical sounds of five different orchestral instruments and how they interact together to create a Mozart masterpiece.  It inspires creativity by putting the child in the conductor’s seat,” Doug Gillespie, vice president of marketing at Munchkin told TDmonthly. Launch date: 2000.
 —  As of 8.30.10, this product had 4 out of 5 stars from 38 reviews on Target.com and was listed in the top 30 best-selling toys and games. PROS: Safe, durable, interactive and engaging.
— Kai Rady, owner of Shenanigans Inc in Charlottesville, Va., told TDmonthly in a 2012 survey about infant and toddler products that the Mozart Magic Cube was one of her top sellers.
— "This past December [2012] we sold several Mozart Magic Cubes from Munchkin. Even the price tag in the mid forty dollar range did not stop our customers," Joe Berardoni, owner of Pun's Toys in Bryn Mawr, Pa., told TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10548      (added 12/7/2006)
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Age Range: 3 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Infant & Toddler



This Figure 8 Set includes a stone bridge, water tower and cargo car along with Thomas, Sir Topham Hatt and more. The assembled set measures 42” by 22”. It received an iParenting Media Award and an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10310      (added 11/30/2006)
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MSRP: $16.00
Age Range: 6 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: General Games



This handy small-sized game challenges kids to steer through traffic in their ice cream truck escape car. It includes a board, bright plastic cars and 40 challenge cards to keep kids on their toes.
— “I always recommend these for travel,” said Laura Miller, owner of Imagination Village in Concord, N.H. “They’re perfect to throw in a backpack,” added Kate Tanner, owner of Kidstop Toy & Book Store in Scottsdale, Ariz.
— Debbie Scholl, owner of Fundamentally Toys in Houston, said that strategy games by ThinkFun are popular. “[Kids] can play by themselves … it’s the same game over and over and it’s always different.”
— Rush Hour “helps kids develop strategy and problem-solving skills through a fun, real-life setting,” Emily Peters of Thinkfun told TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8379      (added 6/22/2006)
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MSRP: $14.95
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Educational



This creative teacher aid includes a Hot Dots Power Pen and comes with 300 cold — or wrong answer — dots, and 150 hot — or correct answer — dots that can be used to create any number of tests or quizzes. When the pen touches a cold dot, it makes a “boing” sound, and when it touches a hot dot, it responds instantly with lights and any of four positive reward sounds. Hot Dots provide immediate feedback, turning practice sessions into fun time.
— “Hot Dot[s] by Educational Insights [are] still very strong,” Rich Gordon, owner of Learning Express in Exton, Pa., told TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 3523      (added 5/10/2005)
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Age Range: 3 to 5
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Electronics



With this portable, lightweight system, letters, words and numbers come to life with the touch of a Magic Pen, and interactive learning games, sing-a-longs and word play give kids a full-throttle jump into the exciting world of reading. Children can just snap in a book, pop in a cartridge, and be ready to read and play.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 9955      (added 11/8/2006)
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MSRP: $10.00
Age Range: 8 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puzzles & Skill
General Games



In ancient times, the great Oracles proclaimed that whoever solved the mystery of the Gordian knot would rule the world. For 400 years the knot remained a mystery until Alexander the Great solved it and went on to rule great kingdoms. Today the classic tradition of the world’s toughest puzzle continues. This colorful modern variation features just six interlocking pieces but takes 69 different moves to take it all apart. A step-by-step how-to booklet will jump-start the most perplexed and help put the puzzle back together once it is solved.
— In a Summer 2011 survey, Mary Porter of The Curiosity Zone in Ashburn, Va., told TDmonthly that "We sell a lot of ThinkFun puzzles. Gordian's Knot sells very well."
— As of 7/12/2011 this product had 4.2 out of 5 stars from 34 reviews on Amazon.com. Pros: Challenging and fun; a great value; fun for adults and older kids. Cons: One reviewer said it was not challenging enough; One adult reviewer said it was too small for him too use.
— “Gordian’s Knot is an innovative brainteaser challenge that helps kids develop deductive reasoning and problem-solving skills. Players can’t wait to unravel the mystery of the knot,” Emily Peters of Thinkfun told TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 5455      (added 11/10/2005)
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MSRP: $19.99
Age Range: 7 to 16
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Board Games



This game takes players around the United States as they answer questions about capitals, landmarks, abbreviations and attractions.
— This game was listed as a top seller on KBtoys.com in May 2005.
— Anne Yates, president of elearningtoys.com, notes that sales of this game are currently “really good.”
— One reviewer wrote on Amazon.com in May 2005, “My son started playing this when he was 3. At 4, he can name all the states, abbreviations, capitals, and most of the state birds.”
— “They sell well because they have every state,” Crystal Mobbs, sales associate at Tinkerz Toy Shop in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, told TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 3605      (added 5/19/2005)
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MSRP: $25.00
Age Range: 4 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puzzles & Skill



Tangoes Jr. makes the tangram puzzle concept appealing and accessible to preschoolers with developing fine motor and spatial skills. The new game features a unique "playing case" and large, double-sided puzzle cards that offer two levels of play and enable children to solve each puzzle directly on the card. The puzzle pieces are thicker and larger than the original game's and each piece has an easy-grip lip, making it simple for kids age four and up to move pieces around. Tangoes Jr. puzzle cards feature recognizable images in three categories: animals, people and objects, for plenty of variety and widespread appeal. Guaranteeing years of fun and fresh challenges, each double-sided card incorporates two levels of play. On one side, individual geometric shapes are clearly pictured. The player is challenged to match the shapes to create the tangram image shown. On the other, more advanced side, the same image appears, but only in silhouette, offering a greater challenge for more advanced players and adding a memory game element.
— “Tangoes Jr. is the first toy to make the ancient tangram puzzle accessible to preschoolers. (It) builds fine motor skills, visual discrimination, cognitive abilities and pre-math and artistic skills,” president Ellen Roth of Rex Games told TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 5963      (added 12/14/2005)
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MSRP: $69.95
Age Range: 0 to 2
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Infant & Toddler



The Gymini Total Playground Kick & Play is a 2006 Oppenheim Toy Award winner for its versatile structure and 17 developmental activities. The borders of the activity mat can be opened or closed to provide baby with a large play area or a cozy, womb-like environment. The Musical Kick & Play response pad can be set upright as a kickboard or placed flat for baby to touch with her hands. In either position, the pad provides 10 minutes of classical music.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7242      (added 3/17/2006)
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Age Range: 2 to 6
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Construction



This new line of assorted building blocks features red, green, pink, black and white blocks for creative play. The small-scale blocks are perfect for young hands.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10627      (added 12/11/2006)
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Wholesale Price: (Log in to view)
MSRP: $0.99
Age Range: 3 and up
SKU or Item #: 071547 130017
Launch Date: January 1992
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Novelties



Pop Toobs are great for creative play. The bendable, accordion toys make fun sounds when stretched, and can be linked together to make chains or stacked to make a hat. Pop Toobs “fit together to make many different shapes, make noise, [and] provide tactile stimulation and sensory awareness,” Ray Dallavecchia III, national sales manager for Poof-Slinky, told TDmonthly. Char Mcaulay, manager at Toy Town in Casper, Wyo., added that they sell this product “for young and disabled kids who are trying to develop motor skills.” Launch date: January 1992.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10628      (added 12/11/2006)
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[1] Source: http://www.megabloks.com/en/corpo/pdf/children_language_acquisition.pdf



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Julie L. JonesWriter's Bio: Julie L. Jones has written articles for both newspapers and magazines. Before joining the staff of TDmonthly Magazine, she worked as a communications writer and provided editorial support for a market research company. Read more articles by this author

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