The criteria were pretty simple: If the kids thought it was fun and the teacher thought it was educational, the toy was a winner with the second-graders in Katie Rauch’s class at East Elementary School in north suburban Lake Bluff.
The two that fit the criteria best were Magna-Tiles (Valtech Co., $49.50) and Hedbanz for Kids (Patch Products, $15).
The kids really enjoyed the two games and Rauch said she plans to keep both in her classroom.
In Hedbanz, one player gets a headband and a card that contains a picture only the other players can see. The headband-wearing player has to ask questions until he figures out what’s on the card.
Magna-Tiles is a box of various shaped and sized magnets that allow you to build whatever you want. It was a consistent favorite in every classroom that received one as part of this year’s toy test.
Rauch liked Hedbanz because it has some educational value. “It gave them a different way of looking at things.” But Rauch preferred the Magna-Tiles and so did the kids. “They loved playing with the Magna-Tiles,” Rauch said.
Those were the consensus toys; here are rest of the best and worst from these 7- and 8-year-olds.
Toys that worked Casey Lawler gave Tripoley for Kids! (Cadaco, $11.99) a top rating because “you could play a lot of games” with this combination of Fish, Snap and War. The game, made by Chicago-based Cadaco, designed for children ages 5-12, also was a hit with first-grade testers. Rauch said she planned to keep it in her classroom. “It’s a nice, quiet activity that works with numbers and doesn’t need a lot of teacher interaction,” she said. (It was a hit with first-graders, too.)
Unlike younger testers, several girls praised The Fairy Collection Woodkins Daffodil and Rose (Woodkins, $15), a toy that allows players to design new outfits. They also liked Hottiez (Chic Boutique Doll Design Co., $13.99), a collection of highly sexualized fashion dolls, similar to Bratz.
Matthew Koch joined Rauch in praising Professor Noggin’s Wildlife Safari card game (Outset Media, $9.95), a set of 30 playing cards that combines trivia, true and false, and multiple choice questions to teach children about wild animals. “It gives you more knowledge than ever,” Matthew said.
The electronic Leapster Learning System (Leap Frog, $79.99) proved popular with the GameBoy-loving generation—but it plays games that are far more educational than Pokémon. The system is designed for children in preschool through second grade and runs cartridges that offer games, reading exercises and interactive videos.
Peter Cork voted for the Transformers Alternator Deluxe Car: Subaru Impreza (Hasbro, $21.99). “It is cool because it came with a mini gun,” he said. This was too complicated for first-graders.
Toys that didn’t work These children are prime LEGO age and the company sent several of its packaged sets for testing. The Blue Eagle vs. Snow Crawler set ($29.99) and the smaller X-Pod plane and creatures ($3.49 each), which come in a variety of colors, were popular with the boys. Rauch was not enamored.
The beauty of the original LEGO products is that they were not kits. They did come with directions or specific things to build, so children could imagine something and create it, she said. The prepackaged kits, Rauch said, tend to stifle the children’s natural curiosity and creativity.
Renee Duffy didn’t think much of Clikits, LEGO’s attempt to capture the girl market. She played with the Clikits Designer Desk Set ($12.99) and said it was “boring. All you did was put stuff on what they told to you to.” Grace Bower agreed. Clikits looked like fun at first, but it was hard to get the plastic pieces clicked into place, she said. Older girls agreed.
Rauch disliked the My Overstuffed Life scrapbooking products from Jakks Pacific ($12.99 to $15.99) for the same reason she didn’t like the LEGOs. Her students love arts and crafts, but she believed the kits limit creativity. But Claire Yandell liked the book “because it was really cool and girly.”
FurReal Friends Newborn Puppies (Hasbro, $12.99 each) never saw any action. Rauch didn’t have the correct batteries for it, but she didn’t think it mattered all that much. “My guess is it would have lasted about five minutes,” if she had gotten it to work, Rauch said. (That’s what happened with our kindergarten testers.)
Marshall Brodien’s Magic Hat (Cadaco, $9.99) promises children “fun and easy” tricks, complete with a secret compartment, magic wand, props and instructions for 20 magic tricks. But, Rauch said, “The instruction book was geared toward adults. Even the best readers asked ‘What does this say?’ ”
Renee Duffy nixed Mucha Lucha Mix-a-Lot ($12.99 for a two-pack). The packages allow children to mix and match the two 4-inch characters with interchangeable arms, legs and head. The two-pack includes a “battling” accessory. The only good thing Renee had to say about it: “You could fight.”
Cindy Richards is associate editor of Chicago Parent. Interns Graham Johnston and Jennifer Mesich also contributed to this story.