Sunday, February 22, 2009

Five questions with Stephanie Oppenheim

I'm gonna start periodic segments called 'Five Questions' on YoYo Joe's. I'll ask five questions of people in the toy business. For our first entry, I exchanged e-mails with Stephanie Oppenheim - a child development expert and publisher and co-founder of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio. She is a leading consumer authority on children's media and a mother of two. She also authors a wonderful toy blog here.
If you're not aware, the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio picks through thousands of toys annually and awards the best of them with their platinum seals. Unlike many other toy award programs, they do not charge a fee to test toys. I have talked to several manufacturers who assure me that the Oppenheim awards are the most prestigious and that some of the other awards will give out an award to anyone who pays the submission fee. They also introduced a requirement last year that the toy companies must provide proof that the toy being evaluated has passed US safety requirements.
Thanks to Stephanie for taking the time out to answer my five questions.

Joe - When evaluating a toy for the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, what are the three most important things you look for in a toy?

Stephanie - Toys have to be fun and engaging. Over the years we’ve seen so many toys that are marketed as “educational” and good for your child, but if the game play isn’t fun, it doesn’t matter what the packaging says the toy will deliver. We also look for toys that are age appropriate. Of course, if something is on target for its intended audience, it goes along way to making it more entertaining. And of course we look at safety—which has obviously taken on new meaning in the few years. While we are not a lab, we have been troubled by a number of safety issues that parents can easily detect at home- these include toys with small parts, smelly toys, splintery toys and toys that are too loud.

Joe - The CPSIA is set to take effect on February 10, how will this new Act (in it's current state) change the way toys are sold in the United States?

Stephanie - The new law, when it is phased in completely over the next few years, establishes what parents believed was already happening in the industry. So many consumers believed that because toys are intended for our kids that they were already tested before they hit the toy shelves. While the current regulations are confusing and costly to toy makers, in the end the toy supply in this country will be safer.

Joe - What was your favorite toy when you were a kid?

Stephanie - My sandbox. Ironically I didn’t play with too many toys as a child. I loved my bike (a boys Schwinn with a banana seat) and just about anything my older brothers played with. We used to see how far the Hot Wheels tracks could go in our house. Given my mother’s background, there were lots of props for pretend, a toy kitchen, a work bench and big appliance boxes (that usually became space ships). I got one Barbie doll (with amazing go-go boots)—but my brothers pretty much shamed me out of playing with it. Unfortunately for my mother, the gorgeous dollhouse my folks bought me didn’t get a lot of play time. I was much more about whole body pretending—so costumes were always great fun.

Joe - The best toy store in the world is ________

Stephanie - When I was little my family would go the FAO flagship store in NYC, and I was always amazed by the toys they invited you to play with in the store.

Joe- What was your favorite toy of 2008?

Stephanie - Too many!! Our year end Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Awards started out with twenty toys when we started making award lists in 1990. Now we have more than 50— due to ties in certain categories....but really it’s a way of keeping peace between my mother and me! Every year we worry that there won’t be enough new great toys to write about—but somewhere around mid July, we realize that we have another great list of innovative products to share with our readers.

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