A group of neighborhood children are helping Santa this year, as well as the parents and toy makers who help him.

The 24 children in the East Dallas YMCA’s after-school program at Hotchkiss Elementary were toy testers in the recent seventh annual Duracell Kids’ Choice National Toy Survey. They evaluated 25 new toys and rated the most- and least-fun toys, says Val England, program director at the East Dallas YMCA.

“It’s like Christmas for the children,” England says. “They ooh and aah. They run around. They want to see everything they can play with.”

The favorite among the boy testers was the Lego Coastal Patrol, which allows kids to build models of rescue boats with flashing lights and sirens. Girls liked the Elefun, a game where the object is to catch butterflies as they blow out of a baby elephant’s trunk.

The Lego Patrol came in fourth nationally and Elefun came in fifth, England says. The Radio Control Raceway, a race track for cars, came in first nationwide.

Thirty YMCA’s throughout the country participated in the Duracell survey, and results were released nationally as a guide to gift buyers and toy manufacturers, England says.

The toys chosen for testing are non-violent, gender-neutral and do not promote stereotypes, Duracell representatives say.

Once the survey was finished, the participating Y’s were able to keep the toys, including an erector set, motor-driven vehicles with interchangeable parts, and a glitter writer with drawing board.

Each toy tester also received a baseball cap with the Duracell Toy Tester Logo. The children were required to wear the cap during the testing period.

“The cap makes the children feel a little more official,” England says. “The kids feel important when they are wearing the hat. They feel like they’re doing a job.”

To take part in the testing, the East Dallas YMCA agreed to have children ages 5-11 play with the toys for a minimum of one hour a day for two weeks, England says. At the end of the period, the children were surveyed, and their questionnaires were sent to an independent research firm.

This is the fifth year the East Dallas YMCA has been a part of the Duracell survey. The donated toys will be circulated to the Y’s after-school programs at Lakewood and Dan D. Rogers elementaries, England says, so more children will have a chance to play with them.

“The survey defrays our costs,” England says. “It’s hundreds of dollars worth of savings.”

Shoppers can call 800-BEST-TOYS for the top 10 toy choices of children. Last year, survey results appeared in “USA Today” and on “Good Morning America.”

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