Beware the new toyshop terror

24th March 2000 at 00:00
A new fad is about to take over the playground, striking fear in the hearts of teachers. Yet one school says it has the answer, writes Alison Brace.

JUST AS teachers thought the playground wars over Pokemon cards had been resolved, a fresh battle is about to commence over Coca-Cola's new beanbag toys.

The prospect of "Beanie Wars" may be a shot in the arm for the toy shops, but in schools it is greeted with nothing short of dread. The toys' manufacturers have been called immoral by one leading head.

Liz Paver, head of Intake primary school in Doncaster, and past president of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Anything like this causes schools a nightmare. They get lost, they are unidentifiable to the child - and the children swap them.

"Teachers end up having to discipline children and spoiling the relationship with them about things that are not educationally important."

Only 6,000 of each of the first 10 types of Coca-Cola beanbags went on sale last week - and for one day only - ensuring a frenzy of interest in the toys (price pound;4.99 to pound;5.99). The first designs included the British bulldog, a French poodle and a Spanish bull.

Mrs Paver called for toy-makers to have a greater responsibility to children. "It almost smacks of immorality to be hyping a thing up to the extent that if you haven't got one then you are a second-class citizen. It becomes a have and have-not thing. Some children, whatever the fad, will always be the first to have new toys and others never have them."

Coca-Cola's latest bid to cast its commercial spell over Britain's youngest consumers comes with a range of limited-edition bean-illed animals representing 50 countries where the fizzy drink is sold.

This week the man behind the original Beanies - Chicago-based Ty Warner - will despatch his latest limited-edition collection to UK stores.

North Cave Church of England primary school, near Hull, has hit on a plan to avoid playground squabbles over the latest commercial crazes.

"We organise Pokemon swap shops in school when children can bring in their cards and we set up a classroom with a supervisor," said North Cave headteacher Bob Long. "We have done it with football stickers and we've had yo-yo days too."

But any beanbag-toy aficionado knows that there is far more at stake than playground swapsies. Some original Beanies are now worth as much as pound;6,500.

Mary Beth's Bean Bag World Monthly, published by Camden-based WV Publications, has a readership of 35,000 and comes complete with a buyers' guide. Editor Paul Hirons estimates that 60 per cent of its readers are school-aged.

"The level of fan-dom that exists is just unreal," said Mr Hirons. "You have got the kids who really enjoy collecting them because they are cute and inoffensive and then you have the serious collectors who will pay big money for these things."

On the Internet, beanbag-toy buyers discuss everything from plush materials to the punctuation on the hang-tags and "tush-bags", as they are known in Beanie-fan parlance.

This summer they will have a chance to air their concerns in public at a Beanie convention at Ascot race course.

The last, held in London in December, attracted 5,000 people ... and most had long since left the world of playground swapsies behind.

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