Paul Oestreicher of Westport has put a tag on children's fun.

The adjunct professor of public relations at New York University recently launched TagsMania, a line of plush toys adorned with small loops, a dozen years after watching his daughters play with the tags on new stuffed animals.

"I thought it was now or never or I'll regret not commercializing one of these ideas I had," said Oestreicher, who has kept a notebook of inventions from medical devices to kitchen gadgets. "This was close to my heart because it was inspired by my children."

The brightly colored stuffed animals, which sell from $10.99 to $15.99, are available in five varieties -- TagBall, TagRattle, Tagacuda, Tagasaurus and Tagsdale, which resembles a Clydesdale horse. The fish-shaped Tagacuda comes in colors such as sea green, paradise pink and ocean blue, while Tagasaurus can be bought in Jurassic green, prehistoric Pink and fossil blue.

A sales team has been formed to sell the line to stores in New England and has put some toys on the shelves of independently owned shops in Vermont, said Oestreicher, who holds a doctorate in nutritional sciences from Rutgers University.

"The strategy is to be available in specialty stores, gift shops and smaller chains," he said, adding that big chain retailers may be contacted in the future. "As we grow, we'll see how things develop."

A nationwide survey taken at the end of last year's holiday season showed that toy shop owners were "holding their own," and some were seeing increased demand from consumers, said Kathleen McHugh, president of the Chicago-based American Specialty Toy Retailers Association, which represents about 600 shops nationwide.

"In general, there's a lot of optimism and growing interest among the shoppers in shopping locally for unique, high-quality toys," she said.

The TagsMania line will make its national debut at next month's annual American Specialty Toy Retailers Association Exhibition in Providence, R.I., said Oestreicher, a former executive for Edelman Public Relations, Hill & Knowlton and Genaissance Pharmaceuticals, and founder of Oestreicher Communications LLC.

"These are truly special toys and we're excited to see babies and kids find them so compelling," said Oestreicher, whose product line is manufactured in China and tested to meet Consumer Product Safety Commission standards. "As a scientist, a dad and now as a toy designer and manufacturer, safety is the cornerstone of the organization."

Toys with tags and other pliable parts are attractive to toddlers and young children as they become aware of their sense of touch and ability to control things, said Nicholas Strouse, a licensed clinical social worker and director of Westport Family Counseling in Westport.

"They'll touch the toy and realize they can manipulate it because its soft enough, it's small enough and, in a strange way, it's obedient," he said. "They're mastering these skills and learning about control and self-control."