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Product Type: Toys
Age: Early Elementary School Years

 

Swingball Tetherball Set
(Spinmaster $49.99 Score:) We took this out to the beach and watched as both kids and adults took a turn. The idea here is very much like the original tetherball, except the ball is a tennis ball and you're hitting it with a plastic racket rather than your hands. You start by placing the rope in the middle of the corkscrew like track on the top of the pole. One person wants to get the rope to the top of the pole and the other wants to go the bottom. Our only concern was that someone would get hit with the tennis ball and that it would sting. During the course of the day, that only happened once with teens who were playing pretty intensely. For younger kids this is a really fun way to work on hand eye coordination. Adults enjoyed taking a turn as well. Note: We have not received our safety verification form back from this company and we have not tested it in an independent lab for lead or phthalates.

Age: Early School Years,Later School Years. Award Year: .

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2008 Awards
Step2 50s Diner
(Step 2 $149.99 Score:)

Kudos to Step2 for coming up with a really fun, gender-free play setting. Our preschool and toddler siblings enjoyed playing diner (the older sister was running the place, of course!). On one side you have all the kitchen equipment of a traditional toy kitchen (sink, frig and oven) with the bonus of a grill top! The other side has a place for two customers to sit at the “booth”, complete with tabletop jukebox that plays a few tunes from the era, and a bell when you need service (our testers thought the bell could be louder). Diner also comes with coffee pot, dishes, silverware, and play food (our testers were big fans of the ice cream cones).

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Toddlers, Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2008. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2009 Award
Acting Out Musical Can Can Skirt
(Acting Out $37 Score:)

The latest in the line of play skirts that have motion activated music. The black and white shirt with black and pink ruffles is very grown up. Your child will most likely love the skirt and the can-can music. Be forewarned, if you have a headache, this is not the skirt for small spaces! We can't stop activating the music in our office--and now we keep singing the song too! Just like being at the Folies Bergère! Ooo,la la!

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2008 Awards
Crayola Glow Station
(Crayola $29.99 Score:)

We do have to admit that we have a thing for glow in the dark toys. We pile into the small office bathroom and try things out. Most of them don't work so when we find one that does we do a little dance (we play with toys for a living after all). The new Glow Station from Crayola is really cool. The over-sized (25" x 15") canvas works with a special light wand (that comes with a crystal attachment for really neat effects!). The set comes with stencils that are fun to work with but we really enjoyed the open-endedness of just drawing on the canvas. A great toy for the car at night or right before bed. An entertaining way to encourage kids to use the small muscles needed for writing. It’s a lot like your old magic state with sizzle! The glow fades and you start again. Also has a dry erase marker for coloring and tracing on acetate transfer sheet that will put the images onto your glow pad. A novelty that is "light-years" away from your old Magna-doodle. Designed for older kids 6 & up. Smaller travel version is also available and fun for backseat fun.

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab. SNAP ACTIVITY/ADAPTATION:Getting kids to work on fine motor skill needed for writing is often a hard sell. Yet, this chunky drawing tool is an entertaining and playful way to get those little hand muscles tuned up. If you need to adapt the sensor, try a mitt lined with Velcro and Velcro on the pen itself. The stencils may give added encouragement and produce realistic images that kids cannot draw themselves. All of these extras make writing a fun thing to do.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2008. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2008 Awards
LeapFrog Tag Reading System
(LeapFrog $49.99 Score:)

Touch the pages of the Tag books with a chunky pen shaped infrared sensor. It reads the words, letters, numbers, and even sings! Unlike so many so-called reading systems, this one has real books such as Olivia, Chicka, Chicka Boom, Boom, I Spy, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, and The Little Engine That Could among others in the library of choices. There are activity books as well as some popular licensed characters. We're hoping they will add even more real books to the list. A fun tool that beginning readers can use independently, the way you probably listened to recordings. Only Tag improves on that. It's not just listening, kids are actually seeing the words, moving the sensor from left to right and turning the pages from front to back. In other words it reinforces how a book "works" in a child friendly and playful way. Parents will need to download the audio onto the sensor from their MAC or PC. The toy comes loaded with just one program, but there are 16 titles available to add on. ($13.99 each)  4-8.

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab. SNAP ADAPTATION: The chunky sensor will be easier than most to grasp. If it needs to be futher adapted, a glove with velcro in the mitt and a strip of velcro on the sensor may do the trick. Unlike simply reading along with a recording, this learning tool enables beginning readers to follow along and get the sense of how the text moves from left to right. It encourages readers to learn the mechanics of how a book works from front to back, from left page to right. Add to this the fun of exploring the pages and art to make things happen and this goes a few steps beyond any other read aloud story system with real books!

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2008. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2008 Award
Lego City Coast Guard Patrol Boat and Tower
(Lego Systems, Inc. $59.99 Score:)

Young builders will be thrilled to have a 17" patrol boat that actually floats after they assemble it. It has a crane that turns and moves up and down to put rafts into the water and to lower the anchor. This kit includes a 12” tall control station tower and a 10" long dock. This 444 piece set also includes four mini figures, shark, surfboard, small boat and other accessories for dramatic play. 5 & up. Our testers noted that 5s will need help and older more experienced builders will find this set too easy. As always, we recommend starting with smaller sets of Lego--building your child's confidence and competence as they build up to bigger sets. Lego has also started putting all the pieces for a particular item in one bag--this makes it much easier. Most of us remember that "where is that one piece!" moment when confronted with a box with hundreds of pieces.

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2008. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2009 Award
Disney Pix Jr Digital Camera
(Disney $59.99 Score:)

Testers loved being able to add Disney characters to the photos they can take with this easy to use digital camera with all sorts of special effects. A great way to give you beginners hands on without getting their hands on your camera! This 1.3 Megapixel kid-friendly camera has easy-to-grab rubber grips, icon-labeled function buttons (no reading required), and a large display screen for easy viewing! Thanks to the memory (32MB), the kids can click rapidly. They only need two seconds between pictures! It has 1.3 Megapixel Resolution, holds up to 150 photos, USB enabled, built-in Auto Flash, 1.5" Color LCD Screen, long battery life - up to 15 hours of continuous use (requires 4 AA batteries - not included.) WARNING: Not compatible with a MAC. They say 3 & up - we'd say 4-7's would be more like it.

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2009. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2008 Award
Acting Out Musical Waltz Dress
(Acting Out $40 Score:)

Like so many of their wonderful musical costumes, this charming tutu is done in layers of pink and blue tulle with shimmering sequins on the top of the stretchy top and edges of the gossamer skirt. Best of all it is motion activated. It will play the Beautiful Blue Danube waltz when your young ballerina begins to twirl. This company makes simpler tutus--just the skirt loaded with music from the Nutcracker or Swan Lake. They come in many sizes and colors. A dreamy gift for the sugar plum fairy in your life! 3 & up.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2008. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2008 Award
Karito Kids Travel Charmers
(KidsGive $19.99 Score:)

A welcome new collection of funky multi-cultural dolls with international stories and attitude! Each doll in the new collection is 16" tall, soft, huggable, with an outfit that will appeal to the five and up crowd, and a travel story of her own. There's Zoe from North America, Wan Ling travels from China to Japan, Pita goes to Brazil, Gia travels from Italy to France and Lulu travels from Kenya to Madagascar. A portion of the profits fun children's humanitarian projects. Each doll comes with a code that unlocks karitokids.com (a site that includes games and talks to the concept of giving). Our testers really liked that they could take these dolls along easily. They're slightly more grown up than Groovy Girls. We love the commitment to diversity.

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2008. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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2008 Award
Crayola Digital Camcorder
(Sakar $59.99 Score:)

This little camcorder is pretty remarkable for what it is. It has a built-in microphone and includes a 1.5"preview screen, a memory expansion slot and comes with a lot of engaging activity centers that kids will love exploring: a story maker, puppet show, jig-saw puzzles and photo editing center. The hardware is compatible on a MAC -- BUT the included software can only be used on PC - a definite drawback for MAC users. Kids can record their show and see them on the TV screen. For the youngest video maker, this is a magical tool that will save wear and tear on your regular equipment.

The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2008. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

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