For a toy to be considered tops to a curious bunch of first-graders, three things are key—variety, creativity and simplicity.
“Toys that are simple to figure out but allow the children to use their own creativity and imaginative skills seemed to be a big hit,” said Bonnie Drozdek, first- grade teacher at Troy Heritage Trail Elementary School in Joliet. “The children like to ‘make’ things and then proudly display their work to others. Toys that allowed the children to do this seemed to be more popular than toys that did not have these attributes.”
By spending several afternoons over the course of a week conducting hands-on testing of 13 different toys, these 6- and 7-year-olds developed obvious likes and dislikes among the wide range of games and toys.
Toys that worked A huge favorite with both boys and girls was the Blopens Magic Color Change set (P&M Products, $19.95).
This toy combined all the necessary ingredients, giving the children limitless possibilities while being easy to use. The variety that came with the Blopens color-changing feature and stencil set took this twist on a favorite toy to new heights.
With the overwhelming majority of the class Blopen veterans, excitement was high to get a turn with the Magic Color Change set, which did not disappoint. Students continued their requests for “one more try” with the set when the test neared its conclusion.
“It was really fun because I could make whatever I wanted then change the color, too,” said Abbie Hoeg.
The multifaceted Lite-Brite Illuminart Easel (Hasbro, $34.99) also ranked among the top pleasers with this group and our kindergarten testers. A versatile toy, the Illuminart is another new twist on a classic that has captured the attention of children for many years. Children enjoyed the format of the toy and the added bonus of coloring with markers. The option to change the light patterns behind pictures had great appeal as well.
Not to be outdone, the tested board games fared well. The children played Tripoley for Kids (Cadaco, $11.99) and Space Race (Gamewright, $12.99). This version of Tripoley, specifically designed for the younger set, combines the fun of the card games Fish, Snap and War into one board game. The class enjoyed the varied skills needed to play. Several included this as one of their favorites.
Space Race, a dice game, was a unanimous favorite. Space Race directions include several variations of play, all of which were well-received by the students.
“Students loved this game. They enjoyed playing with each other, and the space/alien theme seemed popular. They needed help getting started but could play independently after explanation from an adult,” Drozdek said. “An added extra is that it is very educational. It teaches cooperative learning as well as matching, patterning and concentration. It’s a great family game for young children.”
Toys that didn’t work At the other end of the spectrum were toys that were lacking versatility or durability. Toys with a high level of difficulty, too, were quickly abandoned.
“If a toy was too complicated or took too long to figure out, the children usually turned away from it,” Drozdek said. One example is the Transformers Alternator Deluxe Car: Subaru Impreza (Hasbro, $19.99).
“They were appealing to the age group. However, many children gave up after a few minutes of playing with it because it was too complicated for them,” said Drozdek. “Attention span is an issue at this age, and figuring out the transformer toy took longer than they wanted to try.”
As a result, this was among their least favorite toys, for boys and girls alike. None of the students could switch the toy from a car to the other character. The pieces were extremely difficult for children (and adults) to manipulate. Pieces fell off and were not easily snapped back in. At the end of the test, no one involved could bring the transformer back to the car formation.
The Fairy Collection Woodkins Daffodil and Rose (Woodkins, $15) comes with small, colorful material swatches, and children can lift up a hand-held board and change the look of the fairy by switching the fabric. While initial interest was high, within minutes children had worked through all of the set’s material and were out of ideas for the toy, which also happened in kindergarten.
“This toy presented no challenge to the class. Once they had placed each piece on the board, there was nothing left for them to do. There weren’t any opportunities to mix and match, and absolutely no creative outlet,” said Drozdek.