If play is a child's work, then toys are the important tools of play.
Toy shopping can bring out the child in even the most serious adult. Yet, with such an array of quality playthings on the market, it can be mind boggling to make a purchasing decision.
Labels on toy packages take some of the guesswork out of choosing safe, appropriate toys. Child development experts agree that while each child is unique and develops at his or her own pace, there are certain stages that are fairly predictable. For example, children generally sit up unsupported in the middle of the first year and take their first steps in the early half of the second year. These averages help toymakers design and label playthings that will be safe for and appealing to children of a specific age group.
Toys are labeled based on four criteria: The safety aspects of the toy; The physical capabilities of the child (ability to manipulate the toy); The cognitive abilities of the child (understanding how to use to toy); The child's interests
The most common safety label warns against choking hazards. Since January 1, 1995, any toy or game manufactured for children ages three to six is required to carry such a warning if the toy contains small parts, small balls, marbles or a balloon. Such toys are not intended for children under three or any child who is still mouthing objects. Other common labels to look for include "flame retardant/flame resistant" on fabric products, "surface or machine washable" on stuffed toys and dolls and "UL (Underwriters Laboratories) Listed" on electrically operated toys.
Some manufacturers add other safety warnings to the package and/or instructions advising parents that special care should be taken. Toys that would have cautionary labels might include: electrically operated toys, science toy sets with toxic chemicals, craft kits with sharp or breakable items, and crib gyms and mobiles, which should be removed when a baby reaches five months of age or begins to push up on hands and knees.
In our competitive society, it might be tempting to buy a toy for a young child that is intended for an older child. This is not advisable. The age label has been thoughtfully assigned based on many factors including safety. If a child is given a toy that is too advanced, he or she may become frustrated or be exposed to a safety risk. A toy that is age appropriate creates an opportunity for a child to succeed, which helps build pride and self-confidence.
While labels help consumers narrow down their choices, no package label can tell you exactly which toy is right for your child. Use labels as a guide, but always keep in mind the maturity, skill level and interest of the child when making toy purchases.
Be especially careful when selecting toys for children under three:
- Avoid those with small parts that could be swallowed, aspirated into the child's airway or inserted into the nose or ears.
- Check that the eyes and noses of stuffed animals and dolls are securely fastened and that seams are well sewn.
- Choose rattles, teething rings and squeeze toys that are too large, even in their most compressed state, to become lodged in a baby's throat.
- Avoid latex balloons, which present a choking and suffocation hazard.
- Select unbreakable toys that are lightweight, washable and free of sharp corners, rough edges or strings.
As you shop, also consider that children of all ages need a well-balanced assortment of toys to contribute to their development and pleasure -- ones for active play, manipulative play, make-believe play and creative play.
Study your child, read labels and trust your instincts. Happy shopping!