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“Invaluable and specific guidance about how the right toys can help your kids learn, develop, build skills, and have some fun.” --Michele Borba, consultant, educator, and author, Parents Do Make a Difference, Building Moral Intelligence, and No More Misbehavin'
“No one is better equipped than Marianne Szymanski to help you make smart choices when purchasing toys for your kids or for the kids in your life.”--Spencer Christian, former host of Szymanski’s guest segments on ABC’s Good Morning America, and author, Is There a Dinosaur in Your Backyard? and many other children’s books
“Szymanski’s years of experience and passion for serving children make her a leading voice in the developmental benefits of toys and play.”--From the Foreward by Marvin W. Berkowitz
Foreword Dr. Marvin W. Berkowitz.
Preface: Why I Started Toy Tips.
Introduction: Why You Need a Toy Guide.
1. Becoming Your Own Expert.
2. Toy Types.
3. Ages and Stages.
4. Special Situations.
5. Technology Toys.
6. Health and Safety.
7. Smart Shopping.
8. Educational Toys.
9. Videos and DVDs.
10. Family Toys.
12. Classic Toys.
About the Authors.
So, you want to be a toy expert?
That's good. Every child needs a toy expert in his or her life. What's better, as a parent you are best suited to be your child's top toy expert. There's no one more qualified for the role.
Of course, that won't stop many others from trying to edge into your spotlight. One of the first lessons you'll learn on your road to personal toy expertise is how many would-be experts out there would love to sell you a shortcut. Perhaps the biggest growth area of the toy business in the last decade has been that of toy advice. From top ten lists to sticker awards on boxes to experts and gurus, the toy expert field is growing larger every year. And to a busy parent, it looks so inviting: a quick, simply packaged shortcut to great toy choices. It's an appealing sight.
Sadly, it's largely a mirage. You are the one suited to be the toy expert for your child. The advice market may offer nuggets and tidbits along the way, but it's up to the parent to make sense of it all. As you begin your quest for toy expertise, you can start by understanding what's wrong with most of the advice already out there and what little gems you might harvest from their offerings to make your own best choices.
The Trouble with Experts
Most of what passes for advice, especially during the holiday season, is mostly marketing, all wrapped up and nicely packaged for parents. Much of it is hopelessly biased. Some of it is just plain wrong. None of it substitutes for your own judgment of what makes a good toy for your child. The biggest mistake a parent can make during the holidays or any other toy shopping time is to rely on a list or award sticker to make a toy choice for a child. In many cases, these are nothing more than thinly disguised public relations campaigns designed to herd parents toward particular products. They are commercials dressed up in holiday finery.
Why Lists May Be Misleading
Every year, magazines, newspapers, and other media outlets put out stories that claim to have found the hot toys or, even worse, the best toys for the holiday season. These lists set out to highlight certain toys as better than the rest. Very few of them attain that goal.
Journalists know journalism. Many of the editors and reporters involved are not experts in psychology or education or child development. The opinion of the average journalist-even if that individual is a parent or grandparent-is no better or worse than the opinion of your neighbor.
Magazines want to sell magazines. So their "Hot Toys" or "Best Toys" lists are going to reflect that goal. The toys will be chosen for the story with an eye toward what the readership wants to see-and that's not necessarily the full universe of available toys. Any publication's toy story will be shaped by the demographics of its readership. They may or may not dovetail with the demographics of your own family.
Publications have advertisers. And the advertisers are often toy companies. Some publications will handle their toy stories separately from their advertisers. Others, particularly trade or other industry publications, may be directly influenced to feature toys from their best advertising customers. Many publications offer their own awards based on their own criteria. Take a closer look and you'll see it is most likely an opinion poll from a nondiverse sample of parents or staffers.
What are these magazine and newspaper lists good for? News. If you want to know what is new this year, you want to peruse these lists. They don't have the expertise to tell you whether the toys are good or bad, but they can reliably tell you about new products the major toy makers have to offer.
What the Kids Don't Know
Contrary to popular belief, children are not toy experts. They are toy consumers. But that doesn't prevent everyone from TV stations to parenting magazines setting up child-centered "toy tests" during the holiday season. They are billed as the best way to find the best toys. Not so.
Expertise is by its nature an adult attribute. Knowledge of educational value, developmental appropriateness, and hidden flaws are complicated concepts best understood by adults. Who would trust a child to look at a toy and determine its safety or educational value? Qualified adults are the best judges of toys, just as they are the best judges of automobiles or consumer products. Just because a child may ultimately be the end user does not mean a child is the best judge of the product.
Where's the science? In many cases, child-centered testing is done in a way that is at best unscientific and at worst completely random. Some tests are set up in day-care centers. That already limits the results to children of a certain socioeconomic status-those whose parents can afford day care. Other tests are arranged in an "open play" setting with little in the way of parameters. That may make for good television, but it doesn't get you any closer to knowing which are the best toys.
Who's running the test? A true test-one designed to produce accurate and substantive data-should be administered by an experienced researcher. In the case of toys, you'd want to see someone with a background in education or child psychology to ensure that the adult in the room is not influencing the results. With many child-centered toy tests, that's hardly the case. Tests are run by everyone from day-care teachers to individual families to publicists for toy manufacturers.
Although lots of toy tests are problematic, every once in a while you can come across a good one that really cuts through the marketing mayhem and analyzes toys. Check the methodology of these child-centered tests. If they are run by qualified educators and the testing population is diverse-that is, not limited geographically, economically, or culturally-you may glean some good information.
Who's Paying Your Expert?
These days, everybody's an expert. We live in a society where expertise is prized. And in every industry, individuals are encouraged to flaunt their expertise and hang out a shingle declaring their willingness to share this inside knowledge with others. For a price. Expertise is a booming industry, and the toy industry is not an exception. The marketplace is full of people with toy knowledge for sale. But the buyer should beware.
It's a business. It's not uncommon for people interviewed on TV or by the print media to be positioned as "experts" but actually be paid spokespeople. Toy companies make financial arrangements with toy "experts" all the time so that their wares will be mentioned in interviews. Your "expert" may have a conflict of interest in the form of his or her paycheck.
It's show business. When was the last time you saw a dull guru on TV? Often, an expert gets airtime based on his or her ability to perform on TV. It's a fact of the business. So the advice you're getting may not necessarily be from the most intelligent or well-informed guru. Instead, you need to understand that what you're getting is the most telegenic toy guru. That's the impact television has had on the advice business.
TOY TIP True toy experts are not necessarily limited to talking about the newest toys on the market. Many will discuss toy choices that include classics as well as newcomers. So by listening to an expert talk about toy choices, you may actually get a broader perspective than you might from other sources.
The Reality of Retailing
Toy stores often put out their own lists of top toys. These are generally designed to boost traffic into the retail store. Toy stores may set up their own in-house tests or simply issue press releases with their top picks.
Depending on when the toy store list emerges, there may or may not be any real sales data behind it. A list that appears early in the season-say, September or October-is probably based on the retail buyer's best guess. Consumers may take a different path.
Toy stores must move inventory. Their lists are naturally going to promote the items they hope to sell. When they say "best toy" they really mean "toy we'd most like to see move off our shelves."
Retailers have specific demographics. A specialty toy store may issue a list that encompasses the high-end toys that it stocks. A discount chain will feature a completely different set of mass-market toys. Neither embraces the full universe from which a shopper can choose.
Stores are the best gauges of actual popularity. Toy experts may say a particular plaything is hot, but the proof comes when the cash register rings. Toy retailer data, especially data based on real retail sales and that appear in the heart of the shopping season-say, November or December-are going to offer you actual insight into what is most popular this year.
Stop the Stickers!
See those award stickers plastered all over the toys in your local store? Ignore them. One of the biggest growth segments of the toy industry in recent years has been toy awards. Although a few toy awards seem prestigious and worthwhile, most are simply another attempt at marketing, and there's little but business interest behind them.
What does the sticker really tell you? Not much. No entry rules. No judging criteria. No information on whether or not the manufacturer has paid to receive consideration or placement by the sticker giver. The toy award business is unregulated, so toy award givers can devise any system they like. As a consumer, you have little idea what's behind that sticker. And if you did know, you'd be shocked. Plenty of award programs are cash deals. Many require "submission fees," which biases the results right then and there. Toy makers pay for consideration. What you envision as a detailed judging process may actually be little more than a business transaction.
Just because someone else judged it a great toy doesn't mean you'll agree. Don't assume that a toy judge-even a qualified one-knows best. You're the best judge for your child.
Toy makers leverage these award stickers for good shelf placement. It's all part of the retail process. You see the stickers because they are part of the marketing program. Consider them tiny sticky commercials.
Some awards have enough history (over ten years) to be legitimate helpmates in the search for great playthings. If you are able to easily uncover the award criteria and the award isn't paid for or biased, you have a nugget of value.
When the News Isn't News
Every year, the media manage to come up with stories about holiday toys. Often, the story centers around a hot or "must-have" toy. Kids are interviewed asking for the toy.
Parents are interviewed in their harried search for the toy. Retailers give quotes about how this toy is hot, hot, hot. Annual coincidence? Nah. These stories are perennials.
Is it really news? No. It's just the tyranny of the calendar. The holiday season goes into full swing, and media outlets, from national television to local newspapers, dig around for a good holiday toy story.
Does it love the camera? A reality of the news business is that it often revolves around what looks good on the page or screen. Toys that photograph well are likely to turn up in these stories.
Is it dramatic? News outlets like drama. And if there isn't much, they'll add some. A toy may not really be in short supply nationwide, but that won't stop a local news crew from interviewing a frantic mother unable to find the toy.
When watching the news, pay more attention to stories with statistics or credentials to back up assertions. These will give you a good idea of what's really going on with their reviews and toy tests.
Unwilling to sit on the sidelines during the crucial toy-selling season, toy industry associations have jumped into the media mix, setting up their own press conferences, awards systems, and lists to generate sales for their membership.
Often, industry association events are billed as an "inside scoop." In fact they are simply the consolidated message of its members. Look at them as commercials from toy companies.
Associations work for their members, not for consumers. You're unlikely to get any negative spin from an industry event.
Associations are for members only. Don't bother trying to find information about a toy made by a small company that's not a member of the large association.
Industry association events are essentially trade shows. As such, they are good for a broad look at the newest wares of the industry.
It's hard to say no to so many offers of advice. But keep in mind that lists and awards and experts can offer only guides and suggestions. Ultimately, you'll need to be the one educated and savvy enough to make toy choices for your child. Resist the urge to follow shortcuts when it comes to finding the best toys. Your best route to toy happiness is not via a guru or top ten list. It's through your own knowledge of your child and of what the toy industry has to offer.
Toy Test Red Flags
Trying to determine if the test or list you're perusing is valid? Ask these key questions:
Do companies pay an entrance fee to have their toys considered? That's already a conflict. The test is relying on its participants for funds.
How many toys were tested? Of those, how many were recommended? If everyone in the test gets recommended, that's a red flag.
If there's an expert panel of judges, what are their credentials? Look for people whose expertise you would trust. Individual opinions from parents and teachers aren't research.
Are the judges paid for their participation? That's not necessarily a bad thing, but you should know who is writing the check.
Excerpted from Toy Tips by Marianne M. Szymanski Ellen Neuborne Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted September 25, 2008
Smart advice. Truly an independent voice. Toy Tips is everywhere. I read blogs that feature this book all the time. I love the report cards on the website for all the toy reviews. Great resource for any parent.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 12, 2008
I've read this book three times now. Once when it first came out while I was pregnant with my firstborn. Then, again when Jake turned into a toddler and we started really stocking up on the toys for him and now again because he is a preschooler and I needed some reminder tips. I just put it down last night for a third time and each time, I miss something and learn something new. I like how the authors breaks down the learning process for the parent and teaches rather than preaches. The chapters are easy to read and meant to be earmarked as your child grows to the next 'toy stage.' I'm now pregnant again so a review of the best infant toys along with my experiences from baby #1, really guide me. I also saw one of the authors 'Marianne' on television a couple times now including the Rachael Ray Show and she really knows her stuff. This book is so credible.. so interesting and so worth the $10!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 19, 2008
Posted February 22, 2008
I'm a single dad and I got this book from my buddy for my 'guy shower' 'new trend I'm told'. The first thing I thought about when my son, Dylan was born was to get him a slot race car set. Mostly because I don't remember what I played with before that. This book helped me choose some great things for Dylan for the infant and toddler years (not another Elmo, please) and until he can play with the slot car set! It breaks down ideas age by age and I recommend this for other guy 'showers.' It's not too girly of a parenting- type book. It's actually cool and filled with some great facts including a toy quiz on classics you'll remember.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 30, 2008
I too bought this book during the toy recall scandal. I saw the author, Marianne on the Rachael Ray Show and bought this book AND her magazine, Toy Tips and Parenting Hints. They are both GREAT! I have 5 children and am also a kindergarten teacher and wish I had this book years ago when I could have really used the advice. However, her tips and reviews I can use in my classroom daily and although my children are 10+, we still have toys scattered around and the information is very interesting. I recommend this book to any preschool or kindergarten teacher and EVERY parent!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 12, 2008
I bought this book during the whole toy recall scandal of toys made in China. It really is a thorough guide on how to buy toys in general. The author's perspective is fair, straight forward and independent. I was able to learn how to make better choices and I would recommend this book to any new parent.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 21, 2007
I read all the books out there that I could find about buying toys for children. This is the only one I found that I liked and learned from. I think this should be a book for college classes in early childhood development. I really liked the technology toys chapter.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 27, 2006
By the last chapter, I was amazed at how much I learned about how to pick and choose the right toys. Most parents buy what their children want without adding thought in order to appease their children and rid their own guilt. I found this book to be an effective tool for parents as well as kindergarten and primary school teachers. I have one child who is months old and when I start to choose toys for him, I will refer to excerpts and chapters in this book often. I plan to assign this as a read in my mothers' book club.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 17, 2006
I first read about this book in the newspaper talking about how it teaches you to be a better toy shopper. I thought about that for days. As a mom, I think every parent should learn this. It's like a thick Cliff Notes course in buying better toy choices and I now feel like a better mom for researching toys before buying them for my daughter. It's a handy guide to keep in your purse to help you save money too.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 7, 2006
I'm a preschool teacher in Montana. I bought this book on barnesandnoble.com (service was speedy and reliable!) I wanted a book about buying great toys and I got not only that but an excellent teaching tool for me as a teacher. There are so many great nuggets of information that I now use in my classroom. I've learned the better kind of toys to buy for students and I also got a few great tips on how to arrange them in my classroom. One chapter I LOVE talks about toy shopping and there are lots of little tips I have learned. (I'm a big online shopper) This is a great book for teachers. Buy one as a graduation gift for anyone you know working on a preschool or elementary teaching degree.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 10, 2005
I'd like to give this book 7 stars. This book is a great teaching novel every grandparent and parent can learn something from. This is why I like it: I watch talk shows all day long. I'm tired of seeing these boring toy people showing 'the next best toy' when most of the time they never tell me anything about it except who makes it. I was flipping channels the other day and saw this book on a morning news show on CBS. The title, Toy Tips, captured my attention so I thought I might learn something. One of the author's, Marianne Szymanski, was talking about learning toys. I was completely engaged in her information about how children will learn by playing with each toy she showed. She was a delight to watch and I enjoyed each toy she spoke about. I bought her book and read it in two days. This is an advice book for a grandma like me and one of the best that I've read in a long while. I have 9 grandchildren and have spent thousands of dollars on not-played with and not- appreciated toys over a 22 year time span. I've always wondered why the toys I picked never really got played with or my grandkids never really learned anything from them. And, until I read this book, I never realized this. Now, I see why my husband and I wasted so much money on toys...I just usually bought what I was told was the best toy, according to these TV shows and thought the kids would like it. What a mistake I made. I've decided to be my own expert (as she suggests) from now on. This woman leads the pack as far as TV shows go and what she is saying about toys. My oldest grandchild is about to be a father and I am now passing this book to him. I also think I remember seeing this woman on Oprah a long while back. I'm pretty sure she is the same person and I'm glad to see she is still doing this. It's a nice service.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 9, 2005
As a mom of a newborn son, I am very thankful to have learned about this book. Jonathan Daniel is 4 months and I just starting looking for the most appropriate developmental kinds of toys to buy him. This book is SO HELPFUL not just for his age now but also as he grows. I also have 2 school-age nephews (11 and 12) who I thought might be a bit too old for toys but this book gave me some new ideas. I liked the quizzes and the little stories from the Toy Tips Toylab. It's the best resource I have found on real information for parents.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 1, 2005
I'm an uncle who lives out of town. I am not a parent. When my nephew, David was born, my sister sent me this book when I asked what kinds of toys I should buy for David. Instead of sending the steel Tonka trucks, train sets and footballs I would have, I actually learned that a mobile stimulates vision, a rattle helps balance hand eye coordination and a book should be read every day to him. My sister told me David likes my gifts best! I actually bought a copy for my friend who is pregnant now. It is a good read. It has my thumbs up. Also, I saw the author on TV a few times. That is kind of cool.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 16, 2005
I picked up this book after I met the author at a fundraising event for kids. It is a great book filled with tips and facts about the right kinds of toys to buy. It is written in short chapters so you can easily pick it up and read it for reference. I really like her website, www.toytips.com. I found so many reviews on toys that my kids already have and of course more on toys they want. I would suggest this book as a gift for anyone with a child.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 3, 2005
All the information you need to be a smart and saavy toy shopper. I've learned how to make better choices myself and have noticed that my picks have been a big hit for birthday parties and for my son. Great gift for non-parents too. I bought a copy for my sister because she always asks me what to send my son, Nate.. Now, she can make her own choices!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 12, 2005
I'm a first time father and newly single parent. My daughter is 6 months and I have no clue what kinds of toys are safe or appropriate for her. My boss gave me this book and it really gave me some guidance. I give it the guy-seal of approval for dad books!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 8, 2005
This book focuses on encouraging parents to really understand what they are buying to boost a child's development. Our book club read it and it was a big hit! Now, we all feel like better toy shoppers. A wonderful resource for all parents and child care owners.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 1, 2005
As a mother of 5 children age 2-10, I buy a lot of toys! What I like best about this book is that the authors really focus on informing how to buy toys rather than what to buy. Learning how to buy rather than what to buy is so much more valuable to me. Their website, toytips.com, lists full toy reviews and I have used it many times for the numerous birthday parties my children get invited to. TIP: This is an easy read and has fun little stories. Great mom book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 9, 2005
This is a wonderful resource on how to buy toys. There are so many toys to choose from and this book actually teaches you how to buy them. I was an audience member at the Jane Pauley show where the author appeared and she gave the whole audience each a copy. I am very grateful she did. She made the whole toy shopping experience for me much easier and more fun! Now, I feel I buy better quality toys rather than the same commercially-driven ones my girls ask for.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 28, 2004
Our first grandchild was just born and I have not bought toys in 25 years. I plan to buy many but needed a refresher on where to start. This book made it so easy to reintroduce the best kinds of toys to choose. The truthful information now makes me think twice about some of the other toy advice I have seen on television. I think the authors did a very good job making this fun to read. I suggest this book for any grandparent.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.