Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone

There are toys that should be retired.  Not that they are bad, or unsafe, but simply because they have done their time and it’s time to move on to newer things.  The Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone is one of those toys. This toy was introduced in 1962.  The one I remember as a child was even made out of wood.  It appears that in 2000 Fisher-Price tried to modernize it with a push-button version, but consumers complained.

Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone

I wonder why Fisher-Price still makes this toy, it’s not like they haven’t put on the market a more modern version with the Laugh and Learn Phone. I even wonder how kids interact with it, the rotary dial has all but disappeared, much like cathode ray tube TVs with VHF and UHF dials or ghetto-blasters with high-speed dubbing cassette decks.

For nostalgic reasons, I guess, my wife got one for the kids a few years ago. Just recently I spotted it for sale at Toys’R’Us for $9.97, on sale from $14.99.  Sorry, but even on sale I don’t recommend it.  There are plenty of other fake phones out there that look like modern phones and make noise.  And instead of throwing out your old house or mobile phones, simply let the kids play with them, pulling the battery out if you can.

SCORE

QUALITY: 10
I have to hand it to Fisher-Price, the build quality of their products is really good.  The choice of material and construction is such that it will stand tremendous abuse and keep working.

DESIGN: 3
The design is outdated.  Yes it’s simple and functional, but house phones haven’t looked like this for over 20 years.  And here is something I find rather odd: the cord for the handset is ridiculously short.  So short that if you want to play with the toy you either have to be lying on the floor, or have the phone dangling near your chin while you hold the handset to your ear.  I can only conclude that this was done to avoid strangulation.  But then, why does the toy come with a 2 foot long towing cord?

PERSISTENCE: 5
Young kids like to interact, and they like to role play.  Phone conversation is one of those things they love to do, some saying it even persists past the teenage years.  Therefore if they have no other toy phone, they will use the Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone.  But give them a more modern alternative with lights and sounds, and the 60s vintage look-a-like will be quickly dropped.

EDUCATION:8
It is a phone, and it does teach social interaction, communication and role play.  The score is not so much the educational merit of the toy, but it’s capability in the hands of a parent or educator.

TOTAL SCORE: 26/40

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Perplexus Original

There are few games out there that are entertaining and fun regardless if you are age 6 or 99.  Perplexus is one such game that gets you hooked right from the start.  Essentially it takes the old game of moving a marble through a maze to a whole new level by making the maze 3-D.  Instead of a flat board with holes punched out, it’s a sphere that you must tilt, turn and rotate in your hands to get the steel ball through the maze.

Perplexus

Perplexus Original

Perplexus currently have 3 models available with varying levels of difficulty: Rookie, Original and Epic.  I’ve only tried the Original, but believe anything easier would be solved too quickly and the fun would go away.

The 3-D maze is broken down into 100 segments, and you “win” once you manage to move the ball without falling off the track from #1 to #100.  Luckily there are 3 starting points, in the event you drop the ball, you can continue partway through instead of back to the start.  I believe the maze was designed to be progressively harder, but I find that while the 1 to 20 is relatively simple, it doesn’t necessarily get harder as you move along.  Yes there are tough sections, but for instance segment #44 is tougher than #94.

This game is ideal for holidays with large family gathering such as Christmas.  Everyone will want to give it a try, and it will become a competition to see who gets the furthest along.  Just watch the swearing when kids are around.

SCORE

QUALITY: 10
The build quality is really good.  On this type of game, the assembly and part fabrication must be top-notch as any plastic burs or mis-alignment of parts will generate plenty of frustration.  I see that much care was taken is selecting a fabrication and assembly process.

DESIGN: 8
Designing such a game must be quite a change.  It needs to be fun, challenging yet possible, all withing the confines of a sphere no bigger than a volley-ball.  But I have to remove a few marks because I believe they could have done a better product if the maze was progressively harder.  While the segment 1-20 is easy, the remaining offer no tremendous challenges other than maybe 3 pitfalls.

PERSISTENCE: 7
Very addictive!  But much like a puzzle, once solved it tends to be put away.  Yes it’s possible to then challenge others to see who can do it the fastest, but so far it sits on a shelf until a guest picks it up.  By making it a bit harder, it would have taken longer to finish, and it would have kept family members interested a little longer.

EDUCATION: 10
With kids this is a great game to get them to sit down and focus.  It also helps then develop hand-eye coordination and spatial orientation.  To a lesser degree it’s problem solve: how do I get the ball from point A to point B.  There is also a bit of physics since gravity and momentum is involved.

TOTAL SCORE: 35/40

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Imaginarium Magnetic Drawing Board

What kid doesn’t like to doodle?  The classic magnetic board with pen and stamps will keep them busy and quiet, for a little while at least.  Imaginarium has a package that offers the standard size and as a bonus a smaller “travel-friendly” one, just the right size to keep kids busy at a restaurant or waiting for an appointment.

Imaginarium Magnetic Drawing Board

Imaginarium Magnetic Drawing Board

The concept hasn’t really changed, nor has it improved over the years; magnetic fillings are drawn to the surface by a pen with a magnetic tip creating a dark line and you erase by moving the slider across the screen  So if you think the Imaginarium unit will be an improvement from what you used as a kid 20-30 years ago, you’ll be disappointed.  What you get is a toy that cost very little, requires no batteries, no instructions and is rugged enough to stand abuse.  It will outlast any iPad and won’t have you screaming when you kid drops it or spills apple juice all over.

SCORE

QUALITY: 9
It’s not expensive, hence don’t expect too much.  But it will withstand the abuse and keep working.  I’ve seen people give it bad reviews because they claim it’s cheaply made.  I say that it does what it’s supposed to, it’s reliable and a good value for the price paid.  And even after extensive use, the surface remains relatively scratch free.

DESIGN: 7
The magnetic drawing board comes with two transparent plastic stencils kids can use to trace objects, letter and numbers.  Unfortunately they didn’t build any storage for those stencils.  An improvement in design would be a place to store them such that they don’t end up getting lost or damaged. The version I got also has a cutout handle to carry it, but doesn’t appear to be the case for all models.

PERSISTENCE: 10
Kids love to draw, and giving them anything they can sketch on keeps them busy regardless of age.  Instead or requesting for another sheet of paper, or a new pen/pencil then can simply erase and start again.  The magnetic board can also be used for games, taking turn sketching, writing, etc.

EDUCATION: 10
The magnetic drawing board is great educational tool.  I’ve used it to teach my kids reading and writing.  It’s like a teacher’s chalkboard, but without the dust and mess.  For example I’ve had them practice learning to form their letters, or I’ve written a word and they must read it.  Or I would start drawing something and have them guess.

TOTAL SCORE: 36/40

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Back from an absence.

It’s been almost a year since my last post! Not exactly the performance I had planned at first, but then priorities and available time changes things.

Having survived the Christmas season as well as two kiddy birthdays I’ve seen, assembled and played with quite a few toys. So I think it’s time to get this blog going again and provide some much-needed feedback and reviews on toys available out there.

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STEP2 – Wagon for Two Plus

There are always stories about boys with little red wagons.  Oddly enough, the only two available colors from STEP2 for this model of wagon are green and blue.  While the wagon most parents had in their childhood were nothing more than a wooden frame designed to carry anything, the Wagon for Two Plus from STEP2 is essentially a people carrier.  Why Two Plus?  I can only guess it’s because you can add an optional trailer.

STEP2 - Wagon for Two Plus

Room for two, with cup holders, seat belts and storage under the seat, this wagon makes it an ideal accessory to family outings.  The wagon is big, but will fit in most trunks, the “fitting it in through the trunk opening” is the issue.  And unfortunately, unless both of your kids are about the same age, this wagon won’t be that useful.  The main problem is that the floor area is small, hence two kids end up stepping on each others toes.

Assembly takes a bit of skill, and if you by mistake put it together wrong, it’s not designed to come apart, you are out of luck.  So pay attention to the instructions.

If you happen to be within walking distance from your child’s daycare, this is a great way to move then about.  Otherwise, I find its use is quite limited.

SCORE

QUALITY: 8
The wagon is mostly plastic, the same found in most children’s outdoor equipment.  It’s durable and takes on the abuse, one reason why they fetch a good price on the used market.  All the parts fit together, and other than cracked plastic caps, it has lasted.  I just wish the wheels could be of a slight better quality than simply plastic on a steel shaft.

DESIGN: 7
This wagon is a great concept: transport two kids, with storage space and cup holders.  The small door to get in and out is more for the kids than the parents.  An optional trailer can be added for more gear or kiddy carrying capacity.  The one design mistake is the floor space: not big enough for two pairs of feet.  The handle is made to be folded under the wagon for storage.  Tucking something under just does not make sense when storing.  A removable handle would have been preferred.

PERSISTENCE: 4
While the weight limit is 60lbs, you couldn’t fit two 30lbs kids in the wagon, the feet stepping issue.  With the age difference between siblings, there is about a one year of wagon-use before the oldest outgrows it.  So while the concept is great, it’s only really useful for about one or two years maximum.  Therefore it may be wise to check the FOR SALE ads first since most folks get rid of then after a few years of relatively light use.

EDUCATION: not applicable

TOTAL SCORE: 19/30

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Sassy Earth Brights – Baby Toys

At around the age of three months, babies start grabbing for things.  And by 4 months they are holding and placing everything in their mouths with a phenomenal quantity of drool.  If you look at most available baby toys for that age, they are all made of plastic.  Therefore it’s nice to see Sassy produce the Earth Brights line of wooden and fabric baby toys.

Sassy Earth Brights - Rattle

Most toys such as the Wooden Dove and the Cherry Tree Rattle feature natural wood with colour fabric and small painted accents.  The overall result is pleasing and makes for a pretty toy even when left lying around.  The paints are all water base, and very durable.  Of course it’s not recommended that you clean these toys in the dishwasher or any other form of heat/water combo.  A quick wash with soap under the tap will do the trick.

The rattles have a great contoured shaped making then easy to grasp in little hands.   The pieces of fabric give baby something to explore with hands and mouth.   Wood is a great material to work with as it’s warm to the touch and the grain gives it a nice texture.

If you are looking for toys for babies that don’t require large amounts of crude oil and chemicals to produce, the Sassy Earth Brights product line is a great find.  I just wish Sassy would produce more, but I understand that fabricating wooden toys takes a bit more human intervention than plastic injection molding.

Sassy Earth Brights - Dove

SCORE

QUALITY: 10
These toys are well made.  The choice of wood is soft yet durable.  The fabric is resistant and the stitches do not come apart.  I have three Sassy Earth Brights toys, and build quality is consistent throughout.

DESIGN: 9
The wooden shapes are well designed to permit easy grasping for baby.   The colours are bright and stimulating.  They also look very nice, much better than a scratched up piece of plastic.

PERSISTENCE: 8
Kind of hard to evaluate if the toy keeps baby’s interest, babies will hold just about anything you give them.  But my youngest daughter does appear to enjoy the features of her Cherry Tree Rattle.

EDUCATION: 8
Other than “here is an object that has a shape, texture, colour and makes noise” there is little education to be offered.  But then again, we are talking about a baby, and at that age, they simply want to be stimulated with different sensory inputs.

OVERALL: 35/40

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Step2 Sand Box with Picnic Table

All kids should have access to a sand box.  As kids, my brother and I played for hours, often until dark in a wooden sand-box build by my father.  Fast forward to more recent times, until the landscaping was done to our new house I purchased a roll of fake grass so the kids could have a small corner of “green” to which we added a sand-box (picture).

STEP2 Naturally Playful® Summertime Play Center

We are now starting our 4th summer with the Naturally Playful® Summertime Play Center from STEP2 and up to now the sand box picnic table combination has withstood the abuse of play as well as the sun and weather.  Under the harsh UV light plastics often lose their colour and become brittle. So far I haven’t observed any deterioration.  The umbrella is probably the “weakest” link in the sense that heavy wind could damage it, and the fabric could become brittle and fade under constant exposure to sun-light.  That is why the umbrella is stored away when not in use.

The size of the sand box is suitable for three kids, even if the manufacturer claims four kids can sit at the table.  The umbrella isn’t big enough to provide shade all around, so you need to plan on how to orient the sand-box with regards to sun.

The cover is sturdy and keeps rain, leaves and unwanted animals for getting into the sand.  But I recommend to remove the cover for winter.  Under cold weather and heavy snow I suspect it could crack, if not get permanently deformed.  One thing to watch during hot summer days is to not place the cover on top of grass.  In direct sunlight, the grass under the cover will literally cook.

Overall, the kids love playing in this sand box, and I’m happy that it will last many more years.  A good investment, and great way to get the kids to play outdoors.

SCORE

QUALITY: 8
The plastic is durable and the pieces fit well together (essentially 5 pieces).  As mentioned above, the umbrella is the weakest link, hence would not recommend leaving it exposed to the elements all summer long.

DESIGN:7
The concept of a small picnic table and sand box combo is great.  As kids will often spend a long time under the sun playing, the umbrella is a great addition.  However a larger umbrella would provide better coverage.  Some type hooks to latch the cover would also be a nice improvement.

PERSISTENCE: 10
Kids love playing in the sand box.  This product from STEP2 is durable and designed for small kids to step in and out.   Three years later and they still spend lots of time in the sand box.

EDUCATION: 7
Great environment for your kids creativity.  Whether it’s building sand castles or new roads for the toy trucks, a sand box offers kids great play.

TOTAL SCORE: 32/40

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