Magna-Tiles is one of those rare toys: It gets high marks from children, parents and teachers. The kindergartners in Kristin Larson’s class at McCarty Elementary School in Aurora also recommend the Crocodile Dentist game and the Play-Doh Dohville Fuzzy Friends Farm.
Larson agrees with them about the croc game, which she said promotes cooperation and teaches children to take turns, but not the Play-Doh, which she said is unnecessarily difficult to extract from the packaging and requires an adult to be on hand to dig out the Play-Doh. It also fell apart after three days.
The kindergartners tested 12 toys and games, all submitted by their manufacturers for testing, as part of the Third Annual Unscientific Chicago Parent Toy Test. Our goal: To find out which toys entertain kids, are acceptable to parents, live up their promises and hold up under the wear and tear of real kids.
The toys that worked Magna-Tiles (west suburban LaGrange-based Valtech, $49.50 for the 32-piece set) attracted two to three players “at all times,” Larson said. “They loved those Magna-Tiles.” The colorful magnets come in a variety of shapes (three types of triangles and large and small squares) that can be used to build three-dimensional geometric shapes. The folks at Valtech offer a money-back guarantee if your children don’t like the toy. Based on our testers, that seems unlikely. “You just create stuff,” said Nathan Minglin. “It’s easy to follow the directions.”
Crocodile Dentist (Hasbro, $15.99) is rated for two to four players, but Larson said as many as eight students played together and the children played it at “every opportunity.” The game lets children take turns pressing one of the plastic croc’s teeth. Choose the sore tooth and the croc’s mouth snaps shut and you’re out of the game. The game drew a steady stream of squeals that meant another child was out of the game. “It kind of hurts when it chomps, but not really,” said Sha’Maiya Cobb. Allison Guidish, however, said she likes it when the croc bites her. “I want him to bite me.”
Lite-Brite Illuminart Easel (Hasbro, $34.99). This new version of the Lite Brite toy comes with six markers (“They ran out quickly,” Larson said), 500 pegs (“They always end up on the floor”) and eight refills of paper (There were “not that many papers to draw on”). The kids, though, liked it (as did first-grade testers). They were taken with the animated lights.
Toys that worked for kids, but not adults Play-Doh Dohville Fuzzy Friends Farm (Hasbro, $9.99). Larson said she would never buy this toy just because it was so tough to get it out of the package. The children reported they liked the toy, but Evelyn Cielo said, “it hurts my fingers.” By the end of playtime, the carpet was covered in Play-Doh.
The toys that didn’t work Big Top Card Game (Gamewright, $9.95). This game has won several national awards (including one from our favorite, Dr. Toy), but it was not a hit with the kindergartners, although preschool testers in Chicago loved it. One child played with it “for about one minute,” Larson said. Although the gamemakers say this matching card game that asks players to find the missing circus animal does not require children to be able to read, Larson said her students couldn’t understand the directions. She thought it would probably work as a family game with an adult playing. Larson liked the durability of the cards.
FurReal Friends Newborn Puppies (Hasbro, $12.99 each). The girls—never the boys—carried the puppy around, but weren’t able to do much with the toy, Larson said. It was difficult to load the batteries “and the on-off switch is almost unreachable,” she said.
The Fairy Collection Woodkins Daffodil and Rose (Woodkins, $15). While there were always one or two girls playing with the clothing design game, they lost interest quickly. And the fabrics didn’t hold up to the wear—they were frayed and falling apart within a day.
Hello Kitty Vivid Velvet (Jakks Pacific, $3.99). This art kit was fun for a day, but then the markers ran out and the picture was done.
Cindy Richards is the associate editor of Chicago Parent. Jennifer Mesich is a former Chicago Parent intern and a student at Northwestern University’s Medill Scholl of Journalism.