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The Third Annual Totally Unscientific Chicago Parent Toy Test


Susy Schultz


It’s supposed to be a joyous time of year—no matter what you celebrate. This is the time we wish peace on earth for all. Yet, as parents, our little piece of the earth seems to get cluttered and complicated as we navigate a sea of toys, commercials and our children’s wants.

It’s hard to escape December without buying toys. In 2002, the U.S. toy industry’s holiday retail sales were $30.6 billion. That is a lot of money—a lot of toys.

And since we are all in this together, three years ago Chicago Parent decided the best thing we could give our readers during the holidays was a little bit of toy support. We wanted to try and answer the questions you may have about toys, such as: Once the glow is worn off and it’s out of the box, will they still play with it?

Thus was born The Annual Totally Unscientific Chicago Parent Toy Test.

That first year, we put a dozen kids into a room with as many toys of the season as we could gather. Since then, we’ve evolved. This year we distributed more than 170 toys to a dozen classrooms across the six-county area gathering opinions from more than 200 children between the ages of 3 and 15.

We asked manufacturers to send us samples for different age groups. That means that if the toy was geared for 6- to 8-year-olds, we received two and gave one to first-graders and the other to second-graders.

The students tested the toys for a few days to five weeks, depending on their classroom schedules. We gave the teachers and the kids questionnaires to fill out after playing with each toy and then our team of seven reporters returned to interview our mini-market researchers. Our results fill the following eight pages. We don’t assume our testers speak for all kids, but they do have some great insights that might help you better navigate the toy aisles.

The bottom line, which we heard over and over, is: Keep the toys and games simple. Forget the complicated rules. Forget the complicated assemblies. The young ones can’t handle it; the older ones can’t be bothered.

In fact, in several classrooms, we asked kids if they ever played with a cardboard box. The response was amazing. Hands shot up and every kid had a story. They remembered fondly making a box into a home, a rocket, a store, a sled or a clubhouse. But don’t think that solves your toy dilemma. They also agreed that if they received only a box for the holidays, they would be disappointed.

We enjoyed taking the toy test to the classrooms. It was fun for us and the kids but we think it was educational as well. As Bonnie Drozdek, first grade teacher at Troy Heritage Trail Elementary School in Joliet, told us, “Being able to not only play with toys, but also be able to comment on how the toys worked and made them feel, showed them that at any age opinions matter and can shape the future.”


Susy Schultz is editor of Chicago Parent.

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