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K-5th Grade
5th-7th Grade
Dear Marianne:

How can you tell if these holiday "hot toy" lists are credible or just advertising?

Shelley, New York, NY, Mom of Luke (4) and Max (18 months)
The best way to approach a "hot" toy list is to read it for information and not as a shopping list. Most of these lists have little or no research behind them. To determine if a list is credible or not, look for these red flags.

1. The list is based purely on opinion. Anyone can have an opinion.
There are more scientific ways to evaluate toys.

2. Kids are billed as toy experts. Children are toy consumers, not toy

3. The list contains nothing but descriptions of the toys. That's a
hint there was never really any testing or evaluation.

Executive Gift Guide
| Family Video Reviews | Infants & Toddlers Gifts
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Family Videos

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What are family videos? Some think they are films that are suitable for adults and children to view together, containing neither inappropriate language nor violent themes. Others think that they are films that go farther than that by also providing children with positive role models and lessons.

What Hollywood calls a family movie may not be what you expect. It is very important that you set your own family viewing standards and identify what impressionable values you want the viewing of these videos to place on your children.

The Motion Pictures Association of America is the organization that rates movies as G, PG, PG-13, and R. However, more and more families have felt that several of the G and PG-13 rated family titles do not fit in at all with their perception of a family film, and contradict their own value codes they teach at home. Some of the content in these films have initiated several family discussions between parents and their children.

Parents complain about the violence, inappropriate language and character behaviors about actors in movies and in their personal life. There are little consequences shown to these behaviors and over time and with the continuous viewing of these movies, children begin to view this as acceptable. It is the parent and caregiver who needs to monitor what a child watches.

Toy Tips tested 75 so-called family titles from a variety of Hollywood studios and production companies. We were surprised to learn much of the language and themes in these videos were not positive. This included recognizable popular daytime cartoons and animated films.

Each video was tested according to the standards of the highly credible Toy Tips testing process. After WATCHING the whole video, we rated each on positive character messages, values AND age appropriateness. Our review team consists of psychologists, teachers and day care providers who reviewed each title. We DO NOT receive compensation in an y form from studios to review these tittles nor do we base our review on personal opinions alone.

Only those videos that surpass our standards are included in our suggested family video guide.

Educators and parents previewed each video before they were shown to children. Our results will include notes of our research review and the appropriate viewing age group. All titles listed include positive role models, character-building traits, educational value, and entertainment, collectively providing an overall acceptable rating score.

Just like our toy reviews, we only report on positive videos that fit into the Toy Tips standard. Videos which have not been rated highly will not appear. If you are interested in a particular video that you do not see listed, it does not necessarily mean it had a negative rating, it may have not been tested or is currently in the testing process. If you would like to ask about a particular video, please send an email to We will check on the status for you.

Following is a list of the top 25 titles out of the 75 we reviewed. Each include the name, studio, appropriate age group and our review notes on what we found to be the most educational.

Thomas Trackside Tunes and Other Adventures
Anchor Bay
Toddler, Preschool
A mix of songs and stories with Thomas The Tank. Songs are cute and children can sing along.

Veggie Tails: Tales from the Ark: Honk If You Are Special
Big Idea Productions
Preschool, SchoolAge
Encourages to how to overcome problems and fears and shows that everyone has a part in God's plan.

Lyle The Kindly Viking
Big Idea Prodcutions
Preschool, School Age
Promotes listening, singing and the discussion of sharing and the importance of friends.

The Toy That Saved Christmas
Big Idea Productions
Preschool, School Age
This Christian values-based series uses computer animated vegetables as main characters. In this story, a toy maker has used TV commercials to convince Dinkletown's children that "Christmas is when you get stuff". One of the commercially-pushed doll thinks there must be more to Christmas than material greed and escapes out of his box to find the true meaning of Christmas. He comes to discover the story of the first Christmas and uses TV commercials to tell everyone that Christmas is about giving.

Doug's First Movie
Buena Vista Home Video
School Age K-4
Based on the popular cartoon cahracter , Doug, the storyline encourages learning about the importance of the environment.

Buena Vista Homw Video
The story centers on two children who go to live with a relative next to a forest. In the forest the children can enter the land of the faeries.

Dragon Tales EPS #5 Keep on Trying
Toddler, Preschool
Children loved the exercise/dance songs between episodes. Interesting way to get kids to exercise and take a break during the video. Integration of Spanish nad imaginative stoires with positive lessons of life.

So Smart Videos
The Baby School Company
Animated series of 3 videos for toddlers

Dora The Explorer: Swing Into Action
Reinforces language developmetn of bothe English and Spanish. Promotes social interaction amongst children viewing the video and the character of the video. Teaches directions and distances

Playtime with Periwinkle
Very colorful video that encourages thinking and interaction with singing. Reinforces finding clues to find out who is building a fort.

Little Bill: Big Little Bill
Reinforces a sense of laughter, problem solving and imagination.

Little Bill: Me and My Family
Teaches how to follow a map, to look for things and follow directions.

Baby Genius Sleeptime Mozart and Friends
Genius Products
Encourages sensory stimulation with imagery and colors that match songs and soothing music.

There Goes A Dump Truck
Kid Vision
This 30-minute video focuses on the teaching of numbers and shapes to children. Scenes include numbers parachuting from a blimp, building blocks with numbers on them, fireworks taking the shape of numbers, a shape-making machine, shapes jumping out of water and a train full of shapes.Various musical pieces by Mozart are played in the background.

Pinatta's View: A Trip to the Dentist
Boggle Goggle
Preschool, School Age K-4
Encrourages children to be less fearful of going to the dentist. Children meet the dentist, the hygentist and see the tools that will be used. Encourages the excitement of being in the dentists chair and going to their own dentist appointment.

There Goes A Tractor
Kid Vision
Children ride along with Dave as he rides a trctor on a dairy farm. Children learn about plowing, fertilizing, planting and pulling feed for cows. Encourages what a tractor does.

Brainy Baby Volume 1 and 2
Small Fry Productions
Toddler, Preschool
Stimulating both left (logic) and right (creative) brain thinking, these videos include clasical music and stimulate analytical and crative thinking

Our Lips Are Sealed
School Age 5-9
Promotes "being yourself" instead of pretending to be something else just to be in the "in" group. Demonstrates the value of real friends and true frinedship and the Golden Rule.

Winning London-Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen
School Age 5-9
Mary Kate and Ashley go to London for a Model United Nations competition. Because of a mix up, their team has to represent England and must learn as much as they can about the history and culture before the competition starts. This is a great movie! Everyone learns a lot about England's history, land, and culture.

Miracles of Mozart (Numbers/ Shapes)
Miracle of Mozart: Teaching Your Child Numbers and Shapes

Franklin and The Green Knight
Polygram Entertainment
This 65-minute animated cartoon features a turtlle named Franklin, whose mother is going to have a baby. It explores the issues of first-sibling rivalry and the extreme lengths to which a child will sometimes go to regain the attention that was once all his. The story also explores the issue of loyalty between friends. The message emphasized in this video: "No one can take your place. Parents love you for you."

Dr. Suess My Many Colored Days
Minnesota Orchestra Visual Entertainment
The Notes Alive series aim at bringing knowledge of the Arts to children. In this 30-minute video, a Dr. Seuss book about color and changing feelings is set to music. 3-D computer animation brings a young boy and his dog to life as they dance and play through feelings and colors. There are moments when the orchestra is shown playing the music with the instruments making the main sounds. Suitable for all ages, although it may not hold younger children's attention.

Dave and the Giant Pickle
Big Idea Productions
Preschool, School Age
This is a recounting of the David and Goliath story from the Bible for young children. Computer animated characters retell the story through singing, talking vegetables. Silly song interludes add to the youthful appeal while the moral of the story is explained for and applied to the lives of the children in the audience. For instance, this story spoke to the importance of believing in self and in God's love for all people, no matter their size or shape. Children 3 to 5 years old would see this more as a musical cartoon while those 5 years and up would be able to relate to the message more. This is an enjoyable, moralistic tale suitable for all ages. Non-Christians or those not believing in God or the Bible might not enjoy it however. Although the video talks about fighting the giant, it is minimal in violence with the slingshot and rock only bouncing off his head and the giant falling to the ground.

Baby Songs Good Night
Backyard Enterprises
The repetitive songs and the accompanying clips of this 30-minute video are just the right length to hold a young child's attention with live action and familiar elements such as bath time, mealtime and getting dressed. The easy-to-sing-along songs allow children to explore the process of imagination and feel good about themselves.

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