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Finding Toys, Both Safe and Inexpensive

All I want for two upcoming birthdays and holidays are a few safe, well-liked, inexpensive toys for the kids. And I'm well on my way to finding them, no thanks to toy companies who seem to think putting oversized, overpriced toys front and center makes sense these days.

Alright, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit about toys being all I want, but you'd think in a downturn that some of these prices would fall fast. Take the incredible cool, incredibly large Fisher Price ultra dinosaur named Spike. He's been on display at perfect 4-year-old eye level at Target and Toys R Us. When my 4-year-old first fell in love with him, he cost a cool $149. His current price? $129. Let's just say, we'll be opting for something a lot closer to hatching dinosaur eggs that grow in water. Thank goodness we've never been into the Elmo craze -- there's no way I'm handing over $55 to $60 for a Sesame Street character.

As for safety, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has implemented new rules that took effect with products manufactured after Nov. 12. Products made after that date must be certified as following CPSC safety standards by a third-party lab that's been accredited by the commission. CPSC recently released a bunch of information to help us shop a bit more wisely. The CPSC reports that there were 18 toy-related deaths of kids younger than 15 in 2007. The leading causes of death were tricycle accidents and swallowing of small plastic or rubber balls. In addition, non-motorized scooters caused the largest number of injuries that were treated at emergency rooms. In total, emergency rooms treated nearly 233,000 injuries, mostly cuts and bruises in the head and face area.

In addition, the CPSC has come out with its annual list of top 5 toy hazards:

  • Scooters and other riding toys: Riding toys, skateboards and in-line skates go fast, and falls could be deadly. Helmets and safety gear should be worn at all times and be sized to fit.
  • Small balls and other toys with small parts: For children younger than age 3, avoid toys with small parts, which can cause choking.
  • Balloons: Children younger than 8 can choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken balloons. Keep uninflated balloons from children. Discard broken balloons at once.
  • Magnets: For children younger than 6, avoid building or play sets with small magnets. If magnets or pieces with magnets are swallowed, serious injuries or death can occur.
  • Chargers and adapters: Charging batteries should be supervised by adults. Chargers and adapters can pose thermal burn hazards to children.

Have you, too, been scratching your head in wonder at how overpriced many toys seem to be this season?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  November 17, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Family Finances , Preschoolers , Tweens
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Not really, we avoid the really high-priced (and usually high space requirement) stuff. Like last year's ride on pony - I don't want it and we don't have the floor room.
My 7-year old loves craft kits - and refills. Easy and relatively cheap.
Our biggest problem is finding kits and space for the older one to work while keeping tiny beads away from the 2-year old. They share a bedroom, so "do it in your room" doesn't work at all. And setting up at the kitchen table - well I think you all know the issues with that. Frustrating to pack everything up at lunch and dinner time.

Posted by: inBoston | November 17, 2008 7:46 AM | Report abuse

Reminds me of that SNL skit with Dan Aykoryd and Jane Curtin. Dan played a sleazy toy manufacturer and Jane a consumer reporter. One of the toys that Dan's company produced was "Big Bag of Glass Shards."

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | November 17, 2008 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Fortunately, I no longer have to buy toys for small kids, because DW saw "Kota the triceratops" Saturday and fell in love with it. I'm so thrilled there's no one on our list who wants one. :-)

We're just stuck with a bunch of teens, who want an assortment of Wii games, new phones, updated iPods, new laptops - stuff like that. Oh, and to quote Sally Brown: "If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself. Just send money. How about tens and twenties?"

Fred, how dare you date some of us by bringing up skits from when SNL was actually funny? Although I do have high hopes for Abby Elliott, recently hired as one of the two replacements for Amy Poehler. Abby's got the genes; we'll see if she's got the chops.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 17, 2008 8:44 AM | Report abuse


Hmm, Beyonce had a funny skit last Saturday about the back up dancers but it cannot top Dieter and Sprockets!

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | November 17, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

If you liked this story about toys and child safety, then you'll love this one about Child's Play. See

Posted by: jheubusch | November 17, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I have three kids at very close the same age, and a whole passel of nieces and nephews to buy for. I find that the price of toys generally has *not* come down this holiday season - but I remember the deep, deep discounts after last Christmas. I grabbed a few things then and stored them, and I have strung out my toy buying this year so that there will not be a big hit in December.

It seems to me that our very favorite, best things are those things that involve 18,000 small, sharp pieces that can be scattered an inch thick throughout the house. Luckily, this means that I can always go to the lego store, buy a giant cup of mixed legos, and make some small people very happy around here.

So yes: the stupid toys are extremely expensive. And no: we're not buying most of it. My kids are still going to get way too much for Christmas.

Posted by: badmommy | November 17, 2008 11:08 AM | Report abuse

There's a great safer toy guide put out around Christmas every year. Here's the one for 2008:

Posted by: Marimom | November 17, 2008 2:43 PM | Report abuse

I'm not particularly worried about buying toys for my kids because of three rules we have here.
First rule is, no electronic toys! They're annoying, the're limited in scope, and the "learning" toys like LeapFrog and all have cartridges that are expensive and based on cartoon characters that my kids are not allowed to watch! Toys that "run on imagination" are the best! (Not to mention you don't go broke buying batteries!)
Second rule: Nothing based on fads or "trash" TV. Which means no SpongeBob, Dora, or any of the drivel that qualifies as "educational" TV. Fads are fleeting, and once again, the toys based on them are limited in imaginative quality!
Lastly, no video games!!!! If my kids want to play, they can go outside or down in the "wreck room" to play with toys that don't require they be plugged into the "idiot box." Besides, there's the violence content to be worried about, to say nothing of the expense of a video game system that will be obsolete in two years, tops....
Last year, my six-year-old got a kitchen utensil set, a set of paints and sketch paper, a set of livestock for her toy barn, and a clock for her wall, to name a few things (believe it or not, she asked Santa for a clock!). This year's "haul" includes a pair of roller skates (the old-fashioned variety, not Rollerblades), more livestock for the barn, and puzzles (more to be decided later after I find out what she's asking Santa for). My 20-month-old is easy to please, since she's young enough not to object to her big sister's hand-me-down toys. I'll be getting her some new toys as well, since she's enjoying toddler puzzles and books. What can I say, I'm old-fashioned! Not a bad thing, when you think about it....

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | November 17, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Wow, what an inspiring topic today. Here it is 3:30 pm and we have 8 posts (this makes 9), two of which are promotions for other blogs/articles and three of which involve Fred and me discussing "Saturday Night Live."

BTW, Obscure factoid of the day: dragondancer's post had 11 exclamation points in just 1,406 characters. Guess (s)he feels really, really strongly about keeping technology, TV and oh yeah fun toys away from his/her kids! Bet those kids will be popular in school in the next few years.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 17, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Defending Dora for a moment:

1. positive, strong girl role model
2. introduces the idea of foreign language and a few words
3. every episode involves sequential planning and basic memorization and problem solving
4. by pre-schooler standards, quite interactive

Hardly "drivel".

Now, "In the Night Garden", on the other hand...

Posted by: engelmann | November 17, 2008 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Just a correction, the general conformity statement becomes effective 11/12/08. The third party testing does NOT. The first requirement for third party testing requirement is for lead paint, and that date is 12/22/08.


Posted by: TheSmartMama | November 18, 2008 1:37 AM | Report abuse

I have to admit that I detest reading Dora stories. I think they are totally inane. But, if it gets my step-daughter to sit on the bed and pretend to read... then Dora will be in the house. Ditto for Spiderman and all those other heroes that I could live without. If it gets my step-son trying to read... it will be in the house.

I have no idea what we are going to do about Christmas. We have been cruising Craigslist hoping to get a play kitchen for an inexpensive price. So far... no luck. I am sure we will pick up books for the kids but beyond that... no idea.

Posted by: Billie_R | November 18, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Armybrat, I have nothing against TV, but I detest "junk TV!" My kids are allowed to watch educational television and classic Disney/Henson television, but anything else is forbidden. And before you complain about that, they have a vast array of Magic School Bus, Fraggle Rock, Muppet Show, and Disney videos/DVD's to provide entertainment. Gods know I grew up the same way, and I turned out fine. I don't doubt I'm not the only one raising my kids that way as well...we just don't hear from them as much.

Also, I am NOT depriving my kids of fun toys! What's so boring about a toy kitchen utensil set, paints and paper, puzzles, playing on the swing set, or reading books? At least that runs on imagination, and it means more interaction with other people, especially where education is concerned. I homeschooled my older daughter for preschool (economic reasons), and I didn't use electronic toys to help with that. She is in the first grade now, and her reading and math skills are above grade level. Along with that, she's interacting well with her peers, even helping them out when they stumble in class. Hardly a socially stunted child! If they decide when they get older that they want all that techological stuff, then I have three words for them: "Save your allowance!"

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | November 18, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse

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