With the coming of lazy summer days, when kids might complain that there's "nothing to do," we've selected seven outdoor toys and asked kids to test them. These toys serve a dual purpose: to encourage children to enjoy the outdoors, while raising their activity level.
To do the job, we recruited eleven children ages 6 through 13, and let them loose at Consumer Reports' headquarters in Yonkers to try each toy.
While 10 of the 11 testers said they liked the Razor RipRider 360º Caster Trike most, one chose the Air Hogs Wind Chaser Kite as his "co-favorite" because it is challenging and it goes far. He also found the toy frustrating at first and hard to figure out, but a challenge overall.
One child liked the Nerf Big Bad Bow best because you can shoot in people's direction, "but if you hit them by accident, they won't get hurt."
Nearly all of the children noted that the Crayola Airbrush needed a lot of pumping and still didn't work well. They also didn't like that the toy came with just one bottle of paint, which was easy to use up quickly.
The PlasmaCar did not have any fans among our child testers. The kids said that it was really hard to get it moving, and that even if you could get it going, it went too slow.
The toys are listed below in approximate order of popularity with our testers, ages 6 to 13. Prices are approximate retail.
Ages 5 and older. Weight limit: 160 lbs.
This "trike," with rear caster wheels that swivel for easy movement, comes partly assembled. Air pressure needs to be checked periodically, and air added to the tires. It has a hand brake.
Though it was the favorite toy among our testers, this vehicle can go fairly fast, so the manufacturer includes some warnings:
They liked this toy very much. It goes fast, but it has a brake to help them to slow it down more easily. They were able to go fast, race each other, and do donuts. "And it has a brake, so you don't have to panic!" 8-year-old Jessica said. Steve, 11, said that he normally likes to ride bikes, but that the Razor is fun, too. "I would buy it!" Victoria, 9 years old, said. Nine of the 11 testers chose this as their favorite toy.
Ages 8 and up. Requires one 9-volt and two AAA batteries (not included).
The package says that this toy is "Easy to Fly: With a little practice, anyone can fly these like a pro!" and that the kite does "super spirals, loops and dives!"
The Wind Chaser is launched like a traditional kite, by holding it aloft and running until the wind catches it. Then, as the instructions note, the user can "take control with the radio-controlled remote with built-in line winder." Users can tap the button to steer the kite left or right, or hold it down for loops, dives and other stunts. The servo remote receiver is supposed to adjust the wing, says the toy's package, "allowing the kite to respond with dynamic precision!"
Our tests were held on a day with light wind, perhaps not ideal for kite flying. But with some practice, our testers were able to fly it. Some kids said they felt that you really need two people to play with this toy, one to hold the kite and another to control the string.
One of our testers, Aidan, 10, said that this was his favorite of the tested toys. He found it to be a challenge and was able to fly it himself after a few tries. The bottom line: This toy takes a bit of patience, but given the right wind conditions, it can be a lot of fun for children 8 years old and older, and for adults too.
Ages 6 and up.
Nerf claims that its version of a "compound bow" can launch arrows up to 35 feet. It comes with three Nerf soft-foam arrows, and has a targeting scope.
Our children enjoyed this toy very much. They especially liked that the arrows travel far. Their only complaint was that the arrow's fins sometimes fall off, but the kids didn't seem to mind and it didn't affect play too much. Lawrence, 6 years old, said, "You get to shoot at the sky, and it goes far!"
Ages 7 and up.
The maker claims that this disk with "GyroCord" can fly "over 100 feet!" The toy's Web site even has a teacher's guide called "Fun with Physics" that provides information on how the disk can be used as a teaching aid.
The toy's package calls this a "Gyroscope on a Cord" that combines the aerodynamics of a flying disk (you can throw and catch the cord or the disk itself) with the tricks of a yo-yo. And while it can be used like a Frisbee, it also allows a child to play solo. (The manufacturer recommends that players keep a 5-foot radius of clear space around the person playing to do this safely.) Bella, 13, found it "easy to toss" and "cool with or without the string."
The kids enjoyed using it as a regular Frisbee, and with the cord as a yo-yo flying disc. Dayna, 10, said it, "Flies high with lots of power." Steve thought it was cool, saying, "I like that it comes back like a boomerang."
Ages 7 and up.
This toy invites kids to "build and fuel your own Rocket Racer and blast it off!" The rocket and launcher consists of nine parts, and kids are instructed to mix baking soda and vinegar to "fuel" the launching. The toy comes with a Lab Journal to record results, and suggests other experiments that children might want to try.
This toy was messy, and took almost 30 minutes to set up. The "fuel" leaked and parts came off. When testers got it going, it still didn't go very far at all—the rocket just seemed to fizzle and travel a few inches. Our engineer observed that using this toy is trickier and more complicated than it initially seems just from reading the instructions. "It squirts everywhere and wastes baking soda and vinegar," Jessica said.
Ages 3 to 103.
Maximum load specified is 220 pounds on smooth, flat surfaces, and 120 pounds on rough, uneven surfaces. We think that weight limit is excessive given the vehicle's small size overall. The safety guidelines found in the product manual warn against using the Plasma on a steep slope or over rough or uneven surfaces. PlasmaCar is not recommended for use on wooden floors, since wheels might damage them.
The PlasmaCar has no batteries, gears or pedals. The manufacturer claims that it provides "great exercise indoors or outdoors." The only power source the PlasmaCar requires is "the seemingly limitless energy of a child" (meaning that the child powers it), and the PlasmaCar "can reach exhilarating, but child-safe, speeds of up to 2.8 meters [3.1 yards] per second." (Note: Our engineers thought this estimate seemed high compared to the speeds we saw the testers attain.)
The directions instruct you to:
Many kids said they felt that the PlasmaCar was too slow, and that it was very hard to make it go faster. Sara, 8, said that this toy was "hard work." Meghan, 6, Marc, 10, and Jessica also found it too slow. Steve noted that when riding, the car can go backward without the rider intending to do that. It also tips back if you shift your weight while sitting on it. Dayvon, 8, said that this car is "too slow, and you can't race."
Ages 6 and older.
Kids hand-pump the airbrush to create the spray action. It comes with 6 "giant" stencils, stencil shapes, and one bottle of paint. (Refills of Crayola Sidewalk Paint are available in a three-pack, for $9.99 at Toys R Us.)
The children were eager to try this toy, but found it frustrating. They had to keep pumping the airbrush, it didn't always spray, and the paint depleted quickly. Dayna wished that it came with more colors, or at least more than one bottle of paint. Victoria found it "frustrating. It kind of stops working," She continued. Bella noted that the Airbrush uses up paint fast, and sometimes doesn't spray. "I would not want my mother to buy this for me," Bella said. Steve said that this was his least-favorite toy. "You had to keep pumping, and the paint still didn't come out," he said.