Interactivity is key to success

Preschoolers want to get involved with their toys


Uttama Patel, Susy Schultz and Cindy Richards


The last thing you want is a toy your child can use to poke another child in the eye. Kindergartners at Grace’s Place preschool in Naperville did just that with a remote control car.

“I just threw it in the garbage,” kindergarten teacher Kathy Adams said of the Child’s 1st Remote Control Car (Chicco Toys, $29.99).

The car was one of 27 toys Chicago Parent gave to two preschools, Grace’s Place and Chicago Commons Paolo Freire Center in Chicago. The kids played with the toys for two months. Then we asked the teachers: Which toys were educational, which worked, which broke and which would they recommend?

The favorites were toys the children could manipulate. The Smart Snacks ABC Lacing Sweets and Smart Snacks Mix & Match Doughnuts (Learning Resources, $12.95 each) that allow children to rearrange and match colors and letters were a hit in the 2- and 3-year-old classroom at Grace’s Place.

“They’re educational, but at the same time, they’re fun,” said teacher Charlotte Cloyd.

Elmo’s Color Match and Memory game (Warren Industries, $4.99) was a favorite among the 4- and 5-year-olds, said Lauren Ritzert, teacher at Grace’s Place. But the game was made of flimsy cardboard and didn’t hold up well.

Sesame Street 123 Number Jumble game (Warren Industries, $4.99) was a major hit with the kids at Freire, holding the attention of even the 3-year-olds for at least 45 minutes. (Warning: It’s tough to locate these two games online, but the company said they are available at Staples and Borders.)

Playskool Weebleville Town Center (Hasbro, $29.99) was a favorite at both preschools. (The game requires adult assembly and three C batteries, which didn’t last long in our test.) “The children like to put different things on it and make it spin with the music,” said Ozzie Robinson, teacher of children ages 16 months to 2 at Freire. “The educational value of that is using small motor skills.”

The Number Jumble and Big Top Card Game (Gamewright, $9.99) were challenging, but only at first. “By the end of the week, they were manipulating the game by themselves and encouraging and praising one another,” said Freire teacher Diane Winters.

The 3- and 4-year-olds were not able to grasp the concept of Big Top, which requires players to figure out which circus animal is missing from the pattern. Winters recommended it for 5-year-olds (however, our kindergarten testers weren’t taken with it either), but suggested that only patient parents buy these games because they will have to teach their kids how to play.

Toys that allowed the children to role play were very popular. The 2- and 3-year-old class at Grace’s Place would fight over Little Mommy Shopping Cart (Fisher Price, $29.99). But the teachers said they wouldn’t buy one—it has too many tiny pieces to be safe for little ones.

Kindergartners at Grace’s Place played with The Pretend & Play School Set (Learning Resources, $29.95) frequently, especially the girls, who enjoyed playing “teacher.” When they played without adult supervision, however, they scribbled on all the “hall passes” and ruined the markers.

Jenny Seacat, director of Freire, said there is no need to buy fancy packaged games to encourage imaginary play. Just use the things you already have at home. “[Kids] love to play with the things they see you doing every day. It’s just a matter of being creative, not necessarily spending money on something,” she said.

Toys that worked Talking Farm (Chicco, $39.99). The animals say the numbers in English and Spanish, and the buttons were fun for the kids to push.

Alphabet Balls (Hedstrom, $9.99). The kids liked to throw the balls around and learn the colors more than the alphabet, said Freire teacher Robinson.

See and Learn Driver (Leap Frog, $24.99). It helped the 2-year-olds learn the alphabet.

Safari Express Motorized Building Set (Learning Resources, $39.95). The kindergartners loved building their own tracks and cars.

Fix ‘n’ Go Car (Chicco, $29.99). The 3- to 5-year-olds liked the lights and noises of the car, but the batteries ran out quickly.

Duck Duck Goose (Milton Bradley, $19.99). Kindergartners at Grace’s Place played this game every day. The batteries were still running after two months.

Nursery Rhyme Pal, This Lil’ Piggy (The First Years, $19.99). Toddlers passed it around and sang along.

Toys that didn’t work Dora the Explorer Animal Duplo (LEGO, $29.99) was too complicated for preschoolers, even though the toy is marketed for children ages 2 and up.

The Music ‘n’ Play Table (Chicco, $59.99) was expensive, yet it was one of the least-played-with toys. Even the 2-year-olds were too old for it.

Funny Fred Garbage Can (Kidzdelight, $14.99) didn’t intrigue the children. It was just a garbage can that made noises.

Swizzles Cow (Pamela Drake Inc., $2.50). The kids were not excited by the wooden pieces of the puzzle.

The Day Care Durable Piano (Schoenhut, $224.95) was the most expensive toy in our test and it proved neither durable nor safe. The 27-inch-high 37-key spinet has a three-octave span and the kids at Grace’s Place loved banging out “songs.” But the teachers worried it was unsafe because a child got his hand stuck in the hollow space at the back of the piano and the legs on the stool kept falling off.

Uttama Patel is a Chicago Parent intern, Susy Schultz is editor and Cindy Richards is associate editor.

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