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December 2008 | Vol. VII - No. 12
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When Play Is Work: What Toys Teach Families

Toy Testing is Not All Fun and Games


“It is important for the parents to be part of the kids’ imaginations by discussing their toys and games.” Kostadinka Lilova
Find great toys in TDmonthly's Holiday Gift Guide.


It sounds too good to be true: Get free toys by giving us your opinion. That’s toy testing in a nutshell. But there are catches: Your child won’t always like the toy. Sometimes, he won’t even want to play with it. And … there’s a due date.

Aside from the free toys, there are other benefits of toy testing. Parents learn a lot by observing their children at play, and their children learn from the process, too.

WHAT KIDS LEARN

Beyond the Surface

Veronica Flamenco’s oldest son, Matthew (11), now looks more closely at packaging as a result of his participation in TDmonthly’s Roundtables, even if it is not initially eye-catching. His younger brother Jonathan (9), however, will only read the packaging if it catches his interest first.

The impact of advertising and branding, especially on television, is enormous on children, Dr. Adele Schwartz found during her research at Stars for Kidz, a market research company. “Parents need to be really cautious and make purchases wisely, and they need to find a way to make children more conscious,” she said.

Asking Questions and Making Suggestions

Teresa Wilson’s children have realized that “sometimes your perception of a toy or game can be affected by with whom you play,” she noted.

Ruth Mandt said her grandchildren feel increased self-confidence “since someone cares what they think.” Her granddaughter Paige (7) “is fabulous to take shopping for other children because she evaluates what and why they would like something.” Rebecca Heinrich said of son Collin (3), “It has sharpened his sense of value, in both budget and play.”

Ethan (9) and Sara (7) “have learned how to articulate their likes and dislikes more clearly,” noted Robbin Dawson, their mother. They are also more liable to change a game’s rules or a toy’s intended use. “Talking so often about how test toys might be improved is the culprit,” she said. Victor (4) and Radina (11) strengthened their creativity as they suggested improvements to toys and began “thinking beyond the game,” pointed out Kostadinka Lilova.

“Companies have learned to take more lead from kids and to listen to them very carefully,” Dr. Schwartz commented.

WHAT PARENTS LEARN

Children are opinionated, Davis realized. “If they love something, they really love it, and if they hate it, they hate it — no in-between,” she summed up. Ledford discovered “kids will give almost anything a try once — and only once if they don‘t like it.”

Research First

Ecologically minded Dawson looks more closely at what materials are used to manufacture products. Wilson now routinely consults a website, if available, before purchases. She also more consistently looks at a toy’s intended age range and number of players.

Retailer Collette Shockley now pays more attention to others’ opinions since she began reviewing toys for TDmonthly. Dawson added, “Reading diverse opinions in the online articles assures me that most toys I give away will eventually find an appreciative home.”

Play Matters

“I’ve learned a little something about my kids with each new product,” she continued. “For example, I learned about Sara’s manual dexterity with I-gami [from PlaSmart] and about both kids’ sorting capabilities with Building Critical Thinking Skills [by The Critical Thinking Co.].”

“[Parents] can learn more if they are very close observers than if they are asking their children questions,” suggested Dr. Schwartz.

“Parents cited open-ended play and the versatility of a product as winning qualities, as well as toys and games that allow for interaction with others. “The toys that fare the best are those that have a variety of applications, lots of ways to solve challenges, lots of things to do with them, or teach multiple lessons,” summed up Dr. Schwartz. Davis added, “Toys are a child's tools and play is his profession.”

Following are the most memorable of the dozens of toys that the Roundtable moms and kids have evaluated over the course of almost three years:

See more great toys in TDmonthly's Holiday Gift Guide.




Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Board Games



Darkness Falls on Sevinpold is a revolutionary new board game that's fun for the entire family. Sevinpold is a world where every castle is filled with secrets, perils, powers and magical creatures; where the heroes, known as the Valiant, must play as a team against the menacing Darkness in order to win; where victory cannot be declared until the very last roll of the dice when the Scepter is reunited with the Living Throne. With excitement at every turn, Sevinpold is a game that never plays the same twice. It challenges players every step of the way and maintains their interest so they want to play again and again. With two patents pending for its distinctive movement and innovative "team play" concepts, Sevinpold has changed the way board games are played.
— “Sevinpold hits that demographic of 8 to 14,” said Darren Turbeville, owner of Toy Chest in Healdsburg, Calif. “We average a piece every 10 to 14 days.”
— Sevinpold does “very well” at Thinker Toys in Carmel, Calif., said owner Mark Phillips. “I’ve sold through two or three re-orders. It’s selling without even being demonstrated. Knights and dragons and pirates are the biggest category in the world.”
— “I love it!” enthused 11-year-old Sara Seagle. “I think it has beautiful illustrations on it.” TDmonthly's Homeschooling Roundtables families played with Sevinpold an average of seven times each from January to July 2006. VIEW ARTICLE, VIEW CHART
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 5838      (added 12/9/2005)
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Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: General Games



This popular new laser game now has a 6"- by 6"-square add-on that creates a second level of play atop the original 10"- by 8"-square board. Players alternate turns moving mirrored pieces around the playing field and firing laser diodes to illuminate, and eliminate, their opponent’s pieces. Moves can now include a directional move or rotation of the expansion tower, or movement from the upper to lower level and vice versa.
— Khet 3D: Tower of Kadesh adds more excitement to the popular laser-beam game, employing additional board space so that lasers can not only bounce off mirrored pieces on the main playing field, but also enter a whole new dimension by finding their way up a tower to the second level. The strategy, creativity and materials involved in this game earned it a TDmonthly Innovations 2007 award.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11695      (added 2/27/2007)
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Wholesale Price: (Log in to view)
MSRP: $29.95
Age Range: 8 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: General Games
Board Games



Aaarr! Hoist your sails and set your course for high seas adventure in Piratack. This thrilling new board game beckons you into a world where all can join in swashbuckling fun. Players must throw caution to the winds as their ships voyage through tranquil and stormy seas or pass through whirlpools. Ships must trade cargo to increase their strength in cannons because when time runs out, you can't escape...
Piratack. In the end, the fiercest will battle for the ultimate sovereign rule as Piratitan.
— “Innovative game play along with eye-catching graphics are two fundamental goals of our designs,” Gerry Groundwater, owner and founder of Giddy Goose 'n Gander Games, told TDmonthly. “Although it costs more, we opted for hand-drawn graphics as a way of differentiating our product. This makes our approach and games particularly suited to specialty retailers.”
— "The more players you have, the more fun you have (because there are more ships to attack!)," raved Susan Ledford, a Homeschoolers Roundtable mom who reviewed the game for TDmonthly.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 10854      (added 1/2/2007)
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MSRP: $29.99
Age Range: 12 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Card Games



Each player selects a card from his or her hand that seems best described by a card played by the judge. If the judge picks that card, that player wins the round. Everyone gets a chance to be the judge. The Party Box version comes complete with more than 1,000 cards — the entire collection of cards from the original core game plus Expansion Sets 1 and 2.
— “Teachers love this game. It crossed the border from teacher outlets to retail toy stores. There’s a Junior to Adult version,” said Roberta Edwards, owner of Wishes Toys & Gifts in La Quinta, Calif.
— This has been a consistently solid seller for Tree Top Kids in Fairfax, Va., according to Susie Waterstreet, vice president of marketing.
— “Believe it or not, I had the Junior age 7 and up, Junior 9 and up and Party Box kinds and I only have one 9 and up left,” said Trish Garlock, owner of Treasured Child in La Grange, Ky.
—  As of 1.06.2011 this product had 4.5 out of 5 stars from 340 reviews on Amazon.com and was No. 10 on the top 100 bestselling toys and games. Pros: Encourages creative thinking; fun for large groups. Cons: requires at least 4 people to play; not for children under 12.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 6637      (added 1/20/2006)
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Age Range: 3 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Gifts
Dolls
Plush



Ishababies® are the critically acclaimed family of "soft-sculptured friends" with "flavors" for everyone. In both 11” and Mini-Backpack Clip versions, they have a distinctive look, touch and feel that evoke strong appeal and lots of fun. Recognized as finalists for “Best New Product” – gift category in the 2007 and 2005 National Stationery Show competitions, Ishababies have global range that delivers on the Aisha & Co. brand promise of “One World...All Flavors.” All authentic 11” Ishababies are clothed in the trademarked Ishababies diaper and have the signature of designer Aisha Bailey embroidered on the rear.
— Veronica Flamenco, a mother of four boys and reviewer for TDmonthly's Diversity Roundtable, appreciated that Ishababies represent "cultural diversity, and the individuality that we all possess."
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 13998      (added 7/9/2007)
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Wholesale Price: (Log in to view)
MSRP: $34.95
Age Range: 2 to 6
SKU or Item #: 6710
Launch Date: January 2007
Gender: Girls
Category: Dolls



This seven-piece starter set includes a doll, five outfits and an embroidered carrying case. Each outfit has a Velcro backing so that children can dress the doll with just a press of the fingers. “The Press 'n Dress set engages the young child’s imagination even before their small motor skills develop,” May Grant of Pockets of Learning told TDmonthly. Awards: TDmonthly Top Toy 2008. Launch date: January 2007.

Where to Buy: Camelot Kids
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 13616      (added 6/25/2007)
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Wholesale Price: (Log in to view)
MSRP: $89.99
Age Range: 8 and up
SKU or Item #: 07326PNR4M
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: General Games
Eco-Friendly
Family Games



Available in wood only, Rapid 4 More® adds more excitement and strategy to the fast-paced game of Rapid 4, with the addition of an entirely new, large playing surface. Play both sides of the board in your pursuit to grasp victory while foiling your friends along the way. Rapid 4 More also allows up to 4 players, extending the level of zany enjoyment to all involved.
— "This is a perfect game!" raved 7-year-old Ben Christensen, a reviewer in TDmonthly's Grade-School Roundtable, which collectively awarded Rapid 4 More four out of five TD stars.
— "For about age 8 and up Rapid 4 More is a fast fun interactive game for 2 to 4 players.  Get 4 balls in a row in any direction, but be careful because you have to drop your balls from a maze to do it.  A fun strategy game.  Recommended!" Jennifer Shuman, of 1SmartNoodle, told TDmonthly at Toy Fair 2010.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 17438      (added 2/7/2008)
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MSRP: $34.95
Age Range: 10 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Board Games
General Games



The Farming Game is the "game invented on the seat of a tractor." Players start with a job and a farm. The first player who can quit his job and run the farm full time wins. Along the way, players roll the dice to try to buy equipment while avoiding drought and market fluctuations. Side deals with other players add to the intrigue. The game is educational enough to be used in schools, while fun enough to be played by all members of the family.
— When asked about best-sellers in her store, Shanna Frieling, owner of Giggles Toys & More in Bozeman, Mont., said, "The Farming Game by The Weekend Farmer."
— The game shows "all the risks and benefits of running a small business," said TDmonthly Roundtable Reviewer Kostadinka Lilova, whose daughter Radina (11), was "very enthusiastic about playing."
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 11458      (added 2/19/2007)
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Age Range: 6 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Plush
Interactive
Tween



This striped character comes with an Internet access code that gives kids the freedom to explore Webkinz World online with the virtual equivalent of the plush pet. The tiger’s special item in the virtual world is a rock ledge bed.
— “Webkinz are still selling,” Owner Randy Austin of The Gifted Child in Lenox, Mass., told TDmonthly in summer 2008.
— “We move probably 100 to 150 per month,” William Meredith, owner of Learning Express in Cary, N.C., told TDmonthly in August 2008.
— Twenty percent of 64 retailers named Webkinz as their top-selling collectible toy in summer 2008.
Six of 63 retailers named Webkinz as their overall best seller in September 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 20417      (added 9/8/2008)
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MSRP: $14.99
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Interactive
Plush



KooKeys offers a line of plush animals with online, interactive digital counterparts known as the Virtual Koo. Each plush KooKey comes with a special key that unlocks the online world for children to explore, interact, play, and learn.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 20400      (added 9/4/2008)
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MSRP: $19.95
Age Range: 14 and up
Launch Date: January 2007
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Board Games
General Games
Party Goods



This fashionable party game allows players to create their own T-shirts by matching ridiculous slogans to outrageous images. Points are awarded using “Hot or Not” cards, which also entertain with clever references to popular culture. The game is intended for three to six players. Each game set includes 70 T-Shirt Cards, 209 Slogan Cards, 77 Hot or Not Cards and instructions. This product is an iParenting Media Greatest Product of 2007 Award winner. Launch date: January 1, 2007. Read Review
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16552      (added 12/11/2007)
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Susan LedfordWriter's Bio: Susan Ledford is the writer, editor and publisher of the "Homeschool Resources Directory for S.C."  She has been evaluating toys and games for TDmonthly's Roundtable reviews since 2005. She also is a homeschool veteran of seven years. Read more articles by this author

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