It's gift giving season and there are definitely more toys available then when I was a kid. Back then it was all about the basics: Barbies, bikes, and balls with a lot of Fisher-Price throw in. Then along came the advent of video games and by the time I had children there were toy laptops and smart phones for babies.
Mr. Rogers once said that play is the "work" of children. While toys should of course be fun, they should also be age-appropriate and safe. Preschool age kids and younger are happy with fairly simple toys, but the older kids get the more options become available. Adults should put some research into the toys they purchase for their kids.
There are general guidelines available that are helpful. For example, when it comes to electronics, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under age 2 shouldn't watch TV or play computer games at all; kids over 2 should have their "screen time" limited to 1-2 hours per day. But what about overall guidelines for toys?
Here are a few helpful tips for ensuring a toy is safe and age appropriate:
Look at age recommendations. Most big box stores organize toys by age and packaging and labels must include age range. Many toys that are appropriate for preschoolers ages 3 to 5, for example, would not be appropriate for babies and toddlers still apt to place objects in their mouths.
When purchasing toys at consignment sales, do your research. Consignment sales are especially popular for baby clothes, but often include gently used toys. Check out guidelines online published by the CPSC (Consumer Protection Safety Commission.) Some vintage toys really should be for display only. And make sure any childhood toys your parents have saved for grandkids are also safe.
Look for stuffed toys that are well made. Make sure there are no small parts that could easily come off as they are a choking hazard. Infants and toddlers, especially, should not be given stuffed animals filled with tiny pellets that can cause choking.
Avoid toys with toxic materials that could cause poisoning. Make sure the label says “nontoxic" and avoid buying toys at dollar discount stores for young children. A recent study by HealthyStuff.org and the Campaign for Healthier Solutions, tested 164 products purchased at four major discount retailers, including Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar, in six U.S. states. 81% of the products contained at least one hazardous chemical above levels of concern, and 49% of products contained two or more.
Avoid hobby kits and science sets for any child younger than 12 years. They may contain dangerous chemicals. Make sure your older child knows how to safely handle these kinds of toys and make sure you supervise them.
Avoid toys with small magnets for kids under age 14. Small, powerful magnets are often used in toys, and they may fall out of the toy and be swallowed by a child. Two or more swallowed magnets (or a magnet and a metal object) can be attracted to each other through intestinal walls, causing holes, blockages, infection, or worse if not discovered and removed.
Just as you read labels on the food products you purchase, be sure to read labels on any toys you buy. Watching kids contently play with their favorite toy is a wonderful thing, especially when you have peace of mind that it is safe.