Hot Kid-Powered Toys

The Plain Dealer Arts & Life Section Monday, May 7, 2001 Hot kid-powered toys Just add water, bubbles for simple summer fun By Margaret Bernstein Plain Dealer Reporter Your kids are quick to tune you out when you nag. “It’s a beautiful day, why don’t you go outside?” But parents, be heartened: Some smart toy designers were listening. And the result is a new crop of toys, just in time for summer, that challenge kids to turn off the TV, get out of the house and participate in some pure, physical fun. No batteries are needed, little assembly is required. Just add bubbles, balloons, splashing water and let kid power take over. These parent-pleasing toys encourage interactive recreation instead of solo play. They’re even reasonably priced, just as simple toys that aren’t powered by computer chips should be. The Bubble Loon is literally kid-powered: It recycles the air youngsters blow into balloons to make rapid-fire bubbles. Dare we parents get carried away, dreaming that our summer electric bill will go down if we buy these? It might, but then again, your water bill could zoom way up if you spring for Wham-O’s Water Blast Hockey ($19.99), the clear-cut favorite of Superior Elementary School fifth-graders in East Cleveland, who tested the new toys last week. With clipboards and evaluation sheets at the ready, they all gravitated to the hockey game, where class mates were getting soaked in a battle to push the puck into their opponent’s goal with a water gun. The two guns – actually the preferred term is hydroblasters – attach to a garden hose. The toy is for ages 5 and up. “It would keep me cool in the summer. We could spray each other,” said Andell Johnson. “We can squirt each other and drink it,” added Todd Smith. See? Good old-fashioned fun. Many eye-catching products on toy-store shelves are from San Francisco-based Wham-O, which has sparkled up its old classics with some sort of new feature. The new Surf Rider Slip’N Slide ($39.99), which measures 25 feet, is the longest Slip’N Slide ever made. The slide, for ages 5 to 12, includes a body board on which kids sail down through jet spray and a wave tunnel. Other inventive summer offerings include a Frisbee with a glow-in-the-dark Moonlighter version ($4.99) so kids can keep playing after the sun goes down, and the world’s first electronic Hula Hoop. The E-Shoop ($12.99) keeps count electronically of how long and how fast you can “shoop.” It was the only toy tested that required a battery – and it was the only one to malfunction. The digital display kept freezing up. To get it working again would have required a trip to the store to get a camera battery. Still, Superior Elementary student Shavon Graves said she thought adding a battery to a Hula Hoop was a smart idea. “It’s more fun. We like to keep score a lot,” she said. The shoop-counter can help a Hula Hooper withstand the heat of the competition. “When you lose count, you have to start over and it’s really hard,” Shavon said. Many a parent has thrown away money on inexpensive “semiautomatic” bubble-makers that break with shocking swiftness. But the Bubble Loon ($5.99) fascinates kids by using the air they blow into balloons to churn out hundreds of bubbles. The design is sturdy and simple enough to survive a summer; just be sure to stock up on bubble solution or learn to make your own. The Bubble Loon by Children’s Development, Inc., is for ages 3 and up; balloons are a choking hazard for children under age 3.