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Toy testing: The play's the thing Students study best of all worlds


MIAMI -- All play is hard work for kids. Just ask Latasha Hunter.

The 5-year-old kindergarten student is one of 30 children at Miami's West Little River Elementary School participating in the fifth annual Duracell Kids' Choice National Toy Survey.

Their mission: Play with 30 new toys that will be available this Christmas and rate the top 10. It is a big responsibility.

"It's important," Latasha said. "People can get a lot of ideas for their children."

That's exactly the hope of Duracell executives. The Bethel, Conn.-based company has been running the test for the last five years, spokesman Jim Donahue said. Forty percent of Duracell's sales come during the holiday season and 20 percent of the battery maker's overall business is done at Christmas.

This year, more than 600 children in YMCA after-school programs across the country are involved in the survey. The results will go on a list of recommended Christmas buys. Parents and interested consumers will be able to get the list by calling a toll-free number -- (800) BEST-TOYS -- from Nov. 10 through Dec. 31.

Ruth B. Roufberg, an independent toy consultant, supervised the choice of test products.

The test toys do not have to be battery-operated, but there are some rules. Not allowed are licensed characters; violent, offensive or controversial toys; or toys with exclusive appeal to either boys or girls. And toys must be under $100.

This year, many of the selections look a lot like toys that parents will remember from childhood. Fred Elkin, a national trend analyst, said parents want toys that are high quality and reasonably priced.

But Latasha's favorite toy is My Pal 2, an interactive robot that asks kids to press colored disks on its chest and rewards correct moves by saying, "Play again man" or "Cool shot, dude."

Latasha loves the $60 toy, even though the robot barks when she makes a mistake. The robot also barks while stored in its box, said YMCA teacher Anita Harris. In fact, you can't turn the toy off, Ms. Harris said.

"It doesn't make any sense," she said.

But, Latasha said, "It's cool."

And it's her choice that counts.

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